Football: Rich potential remains for successor as manager

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The Independent Online
No one can deny Kevin Keegan the right to walk away. Football management carries extreme pressures - witness the resignations of Kenny Dalglish and Steve Coppell, and the heart attacks suffered by Graeme Souness, Don Howe and, tragically, Jock Stein.

But Keegan may be acting as much in Newcastle's best interests as his own. He is the only person who could have lifted Newcastle so far, so fast, and re-ignited the passion of a region in doing so. He may not, however, be the man to take them that extra step.

Keegan is a fine motivator of men but such an approach, if not allied to astute tactics, will only carry a side so far. His laudable desire to see attractive football has not only shown in his spending and playing policies, it has also been reflected in results. Newcastle have lost matches a more pragmatic approach would have won.

It has made for wonderful entertainment and for many Newcastle fans that is enough. But expectations are now so high that many more want trophies as well as goals.

Now there are even suggestions that his motivational powers are waning. The tale doing the rounds in Newcastle yesterday was that his Christmas present from the team was a dummy, to replace the one he kept spitting out.

If true it sounds an affectionate joke more than a bitter jibe but his habit of praising the team to the heavens, or condemning them to the depths, would not have worked with every player. You seldom hear Alex Ferguson criticise his own.

Then there was the uncertainty caused by Keegan's inability to decide on his best XI and how to play them. This will be the first task for a new manager. If that is done quickly Newcastle should recover more rapidly than Liverpool did after Dalglish walked out. The team is top heavy with forward talent and has an average age of more than 27 but it does not require drastic surgery. Only Peter Beardsley is over 30.

Beardsley may not last long if Dalglish does take over - and what an irony his apppointment would be. The new manager, whoever he is, may not be as indulgent of David Ginola and Faustino Asprilla as Keegan.

It is hard to see Newcastle remaining contenders for this year's championship but they cannot be written off. As Arsenal have proved, managerial instability does not always induce collapse. Like Arsene Wenger, Newcastle's new man will have the rare advantage of taking over a side well-placed and rich in potential.

Long term, Newcastle ought to remain in the elite but much depends on Sir John and Douglas Hall. Sir John's backing of Keegan was as much emotional as practical and he is unlikely to form such a close bond with his replacement. Newcastle are thought to be financially stretched at present and Keegan's departure will not help the imminent share issue.

The Halls pulled off a masterstroke when they appointed Keegan, now they must show the same inspiration with the selection of his replacement.