Football: Wembley won me over - Keegan

Football Association set to agree contract after nation's favourite declares willingness to accept full-time job as England coach
  • @GlennMoore7
WEMBLEY'S DAYS may be numbered but, if Kevin Keegan's reign proves to be a success, the old Empire Stadium will have performed one last service to English football before being dismantled next year.

"Wembley was a massive influence," admitted Keegan as he reflected yesterday on his decision to accept the Football Association's offer to be England's full-time, long-term, coach. "Just walking out there against Poland [his first match as caretaker] I felt very at ease and comfortable. I love Wembley, I used to love just being in the commentary box. It's a long way from the pitch up in the gantry and a part of me was always saying: `I want to be down there, picking the team'.

The atmosphere surrounding England's 3-1 win that day played on Keegan's mind as he got on with the task of leading Fulham to the Second Division championship. When that was achieved last week he felt he was finally free to give in to his dreams.

He added: "If the guy at Fulham, Mr [Mohammed Al] Fayed, had not been so good to me it would have been easier but my heart tells me to take it and I've got to let that be my judge. It will be full-time though there may be a transition stage while we get Fulham sorted out. That is important to me and I won't rush it.

"I've had a good look at the job, I've really enjoyed it, it doesn't worry me, it doesn't scare me. I can see the pitfalls but I can also see a lot of pluses and working with the players had been an absolute dream - I hope, really hope, they are pleased about this. I think for their benefit as well, with the two European Championship qualifying games [against Sweden and Bulgaria] coming up in June, it will be good that we can now get on with it.

"My circumstances were difficult and still are but you shouldn't be picky about the England job and there was always the chance that it wouldn't come round again."

The FA will now meet Keegan to hammer out a contract. David Davies, the acting chief executive, will lead negotiations with Geoff Thompson, the acting chairman, who appears to have been won over to the idea of a long- term Keegan reign, having stated in a interview in February that such a move "might end in tears rather than trophies".

Keegan is likely to be offered around pounds 750,000 per year, including bonuses, more than double Glenn Hoddle's salary. This is still below several Premiership managers but the England post also brings potentially lucrative spin-offs.

Once Keegan has the Fulham issue settled, and he is likely to remain involved in an advisory capacity which may include transfer dealings, he will be able to give England the time he has realised it needs.

"I'm not a fool," he said, "I don't want to compromise either job and I don't think it is possible to do both the way I am doing at the moment."

Being full-time with England will enable him, he added, to "feel better prepared than I have been for Poland and Hungary. I have good people helping me but it means I can do a little bit more myself. I would like to go and see the teams play at least once, I think an England manager should do that." He will also be able to watch Premiership matches.

Arthur Cox and Derek Fazackerley, who were brought into the England set- up by Keegan, are likely to be offered long-term contracts while some of the staff he inherited, like Ray Clemence, may have theirs extended. Howard Wilkinson, the FA's director of football, may continue to have a closer involvement than Hoddle had permitted.

This "team" provides some of the tactical expertise Keegan willingly admits he lacks. Reminded of his comment "I'm not your man if you want a nil-nil draw in Ukraine", he simply grinned and said: "Would you accept one-one?"

Alan Shearer, who welcomed the appointment, alluded to this when he said: "He's been no different to when I played under him at Newcastle United. He is a player's manager. He's on their wavelength. There aren't a tremendous amount of tactics, he's proved that down the years. He just says: `Show me what you can do.' The last two games he's done that. You want to play for him because of his attitude, you want to give your all; not just because you are wearing an England shirt, it's because it is him as well."

Shearer, who always claimed England's poor displays in Hoddle's last months did not indicate a failing relationship with the manager added: "The performances we have given under him show what we think of him."

Martin Keown spoke in similar vein when he said: "I feel so relaxed when I come to play for England now and I always play better when I'm like that.

"He's the right man for the job, there is no real barrier between manager and players and that makes you comfortable."

Keegan certainly seems at ease. He added: "I'm not frightened by the media. I know what's coming if I'm not successful but I've got a real chance, that's the key. I don't want to be a failure. I'm not used to it. I just feel we've got so much going for us. I'm not going to start talking about winning World Cups but we have a lot of good kids coming through."