Keegan set to sue over 'gambling' allegations

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The possibility of England players appearing in court as witnesses on behalf of Kevin Keegan arose last night after the former England manager began legal proceedings for libel.

The possibility of England players appearing in court as witnesses on behalf of Kevin Keegan arose last night after the former England manager began legal proceedings for libel.

Keegan has been engulfed in criticism in recent days for allegedly promoting high-stakes gambling and presiding over a factionalised squad during his reign as England manager.

A News of the World story on Sunday, headlined 'Keegan's £40,000 bet shame', appears to have been a tale too far and Keegan has turned to the noted libel lawyers Peter Carter-Ruck and partners.

In a statement last night they said: "Keegan utterly refutes the allegations and is determined to take whatever action may be necessary to defend his reputation. A letter has been sent to the News of the World in advance of legal action against the newspaper."

Should this lead to a court case, the England players, having been present at the alleged incident, would presumably be called as witnesses. This could be embarrassing for the Football Association, who are already unhappy about being drawn into the affair after comments made by Adam Crozier, the chief executive, were used to stoke the criticism.

Crozier has since been criticised by Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, and Mick Channon, a former England team-mate of Keegan, but yesterday he said suggestions that he had been "bad-mouthing" Keegan were "preposterous". He added that both he and the FA supported Keegan before and since his resignation after last month's home defeat to Germany.

This was backed up by Keegan's solicitors, whose statement added: "Mr Keegan would like to record his thanks to Adam Crozier and everyone at the Football Association for their wholehearted support of him at all times."

Crozier said: "There has been a lot of exaggeration of events over the past few days. I am lucky enough to consider myself a friend of Kevin's having been through some difficult times together. The idea that I would now go round bad-mouthing him is preposterous. Everyone here at the FA is very supportive of him and we will continue to support him in the future. We wish Kevin nothing but the best at this difficult time."

Last Thursday, after introducing Sven Goran Eriksson, Keegan's successor, to the English media, Crozier did admit, in response to suggestions that there had been divisions in the England squad, that "players could be closer together", adding: "One of the jobs of the new coach is to pull it together."

This, in the wake of stories of rifts between the Liverpool and Manchester United players, and of card schools and race nights in which thousands of pounds changed hands, was interpreted in some quarters as implicit criticism of Keegan's management style.

Crozier also said: "I have heard from people within the camp, including the players, that they are not close. Sven wants to pull all the players together. A sense of purpose comes from clarity of thought and belief that comes from the leader. The new coach comes in completely fresh, with no bias one way or the other to any club or player. I do not think Sven has blind spots over players."

Crozier, as might be expected given his background with Saatchi and Saatchi, is rarely caught out on presentation, but with his comments, which were designed to promote Eriksson, continuing to be used to denigrate Keegan he realised he needed to step in.

His defence was backed up by an FA statement which noted that Crozier had "stated very clearly his admiration for Kevin as a man and as a coach" when Keegan resigned. It added the FA "could not have been more supportive of Kevin" and "remain supportive. Any suggestion otherwise is very unfair."

All the same, there are many in the FA who support this observer's view that the England team is about to be better run, on and off the pitch, than it was under Keegan. Unfortunately, it took the loss of five World Cup qualifying points to force the change.