Guppy a 'left-sided Beckham' says Keegan

Click to follow
The Independent Football

THE TIMING could be better but, having almost given up hope of playing for England, Steve Guppy is not complaining about an unfortunate fixture clash this weekend. Until Kevin Keegan's abrupt revision of opinion on the Leicester winger's abilities, Guppy was scheduled to be best man in Hampshire on Friday at the wedding of his brother Andy and fiancee Julie. Now he is hoping to be best man in Sunderland on Sunday for England against Belgium.

THE TIMING could be better but, having almost given up hope of playing for England, Steve Guppy is not complaining about an unfortunate fixture clash this weekend. Until Kevin Keegan's abrupt revision of opinion on the Leicester winger's abilities, Guppy was scheduled to be best man in Hampshire on Friday at the wedding of his brother Andy and fiancee Julie. Now he is hoping to be best man in Sunderland on Sunday for England against Belgium.

Given Keegan's previous reluctance to consider Guppy, either for Newcastle or England, the player's brother can hardly be blamed for arranging his match of the day on an international weekend. It probably seemed a good idea as there were no Premiership fixtures scheduled that day.

Yesterday Keegan mentioned Guppy in the same breath as David Beckham. Praise indeed and quite extraordinary since Keegan not only sold Guppy after one substitute appearance at Newcastle he has since ignored him during England's increasingly desperate search for a left-sided player.

"He is a little bit like a left-sided David Beckham," Keegan said. "That's quite exciting. Like David he doesn't have to beat people, he can beat them with the ball as well as run past them."

Since the real Beckham will not be available on Sunday - he has returned to Old Trafford nursing a hamstring injury - the left-footed version seems likely to start, especially as Keegan has also revised his opinion on crosses.

"In home games, where you get the bulk of possession, the rewards could be tremendous if we get on crosses of the quality Guppy and Beckham can deliver."Not that Keegan was getting entirely carried away. "How good he could be at this level I don't know," he said, adding: "If you ask him he probably doesn't know either."

Guppy is not the sort to say he will take the international game by storm but he did say: "I feel the time's right for me, I've played in the Premier League for a few seasons so I respect everyone here but I'm not in awe of them."

That was the problem at Newcastle and, initially, at Leicester where he earned the nickname "Nervous Nora". Diffident in front of the press, one wonders whether, at 30, he will be given the time he might require to make the latest step up. "He has settled in pretty quick in training but it is down to individuals at the end of the day," Keegan added.

Guppy has certainly worked hard for his call-up. Discovered playing in local football by Martin O'Neill for Wycombe, then of the Conference, he gave up his day job with a construction company to work on his game.

Following his parents' early advice to "practise, practise, practise" he still does it at Leicester inviting, he said, "a bit of stick from the lads saying 'have you got no mates?' and things like that because I go out [on to the training pitch] in the afternoon."

That sums up the average English pro's attitude to training, so it is good to see Guppy rewarded. His hard work first paid off when he was signed by Keegan for Newcastle in August 1994 but, after one Coca-Cola Cup appearance - as substitute for Andy Cole in Newcastle's defeat of a famously inexperienced Manchester United XI - he was sold to Port Vale. There he rebuilt his confidence under John Rudge before being re-united with O'Neill at Leicester.

Of his time at Newcastle he said yesterday: "I'd been a professional footballer one year and going up to the Premier League was too much of a jump at the time. Leaving was a shock but going to Port Vale and really learning the trade, rather than rotting away in the reserves at Newcastle, was a blessing in disguise."

How far Keegan has really changed his opinion of Guppy is uncertain. He explained his previous reluctance to pick him by suggesting he had preferred to "stick with experienced players who had played at this level". Seeing as Tim Sherwood, Ray Parlour and Nicky Butt were three of the players tried on the left, this is disingenuous at best.

Keegan's weekend planning is still clouded by injuries. Paul Scholes yesterday had a long-scheduled check-up on his troubled groin muscle in Manchester and, while he is due to return to the team's Berkshire base this morning, he also has a bruised foot. Alan Shearer, Martin Keown and Tony Adams are still to train but may do some light work today.

Comments