Keegan v Wise: the feud files

Extraordinary details reveal extent of the rift that forced out Newcastle's 'messiah' / Ex-manager wins £2m in compensation but claim for 10 times that figure angers fans
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The Independent Online

Kevin Keegan yesterday walked out of his compensation battle with Newcastle United £2m richer.

But such was the extent and magnitude of the revelations that emerged from what should prove to be the final significant scene in his long-running and intensely acrimonious fall-out with Dennis Wise, the club's former executive director of football, the seven-figure settlement was left in the shadows.

For a start there was the total Keegan and his legal team had demanded following his departure from St James' in September 2008. That figure was £25.1m – some £16.5m in lost potential earnings and "stigma" damages, and £8.6m from the remaining three-and-a-half years on his £58,000-a-week contract. But more breathtaking still is the insight given by the Premier League tribunal into the power games that tore apart Newcastle United.

The most revealing episode is the signing of the Uruguayan international Ignacio Gonzalez, who has since returned to his club Valencia. The deal went ahead despite Keegan never having seen the midfielder play. It proved to be the final straw. "I resigned because I was being asked to sanction the signing of a player in order to 'do a favour' for two South American agents," Keegan insisted.

"No one at the club had seen this player play and I was asked to sign him on the basis of some clips on YouTube. I wasn't prepared to be associated with that in any way. The club knew that I objected strongly to this transfer and were aware that by continuing with it I was likely to feel that I had no option but to resign."

The tribunal states that the Gonzalez deal was: "in the commercial interests of the Club." It continued: "The 'commercial interests', according to the club, were that the signing of the player on loan would be a 'favour' to two influential South American agents who would look favourably on the club in the future.

"The loan deal cost the club nearly £1m in wages for a player who was not expected to play for the first team but no payment was made by the club to the agents in respect of the deal."

The outcome of the two-week hearing clearly justifies Keegan's bringing of the case, his team successfully arguing that he was left with no option but to resign when the club's owner Mike Ashley went back on the agreed "golden rule" term in his contract that the manager would have the final say on all transfer activity.

That situation, however, irrevocably changed following the appointment of Wise in a director of football role shortly after Keegan began his second spell in charge in January 2008, after swapping his Glasgow-based Soccer Circus business for the continuing circus being played out on the Gallowgate.

Yet however much Keegan is able to claim the moral high ground from his tribunal victory, the rights and wrongs of his argument cut little ice with many Newcastle supporters who are unable to look beyond the telephone-number figures involved as the latest chapter of the Newcastle United soap opera unfolded before disbelieving eyes. As Matthew Kingston, one of many disgruntled Toon Army foot-soldiers succinctly put it: "He's not the Messiah, he's a very greedy boy."

While Keegan's reputation may be forever besmirched with a significant number of supporters, that of the St James' Park hierarchy has suffered another hammering, as the tribunal delivered an at times damning verdict on the way the club is run. A statement read: "We do not believe that Mr Keegan would have accepted the job as manager if it had been implicit that he would not have the final say. We unhesitatingly accept his evidence on this point."

The tribunal added: "The club's own witnesses seemed unclear as to the position as to who would have the final say and we had, and continue to have, real difficulty in understanding the club's position on this point."

It also suggested supporters were misled in a series of interviews carried on the official club website and club programme early last year, where Wise and former chairman Chris Mort confirmed that Keegan was in sole charge of transfers. The statement continued: "For the club to have made these statements, when they were, according to the club, untrue, was in our view simply to store up trouble for the future."

Newcastle, who steadfastly maintained that Keegan was never told he would have the ultimate say on transfers in its unsuccessful £2m claim for breach of contract, failed to help their cause by last night refusing to comment, a trait that has been a common failing during Ashley's turbulent two-and-a-half year reign.

Keegan admitted it had been difficult to keep his counsel as rumour and counter-rumour have flown in the 13 months since his resignation. He refuted suggestions that he turned down a £4m out of court settlement last month. "I'm delighted the tribunal has upheld my claim," he said.

"The decision to resign was one of the most difficult that I've ever had to take. Anybody who knows me and my attachment to Newcastle United and the North-east will understand how difficult this must have been. I hope the tribunal's decision confirms why I felt I had no option.

"It found the conduct of the club in forcing a player on me against my wishes represented a fundamental breach of my contract. I don't believe there is any manager in football who could have remained at the club in the light of their conduct."

After another day where events at St James' Park fitted snugly into the category of "you really couldn't make it up", Keegan added: "The central purpose of my claim has always been to let people know the full circumstances of my resignation, the way I was treated by the club and to clear my name and restore my reputation.

"I very much regret that this claim ever had to go to the hearing as it did." That, no doubt, is a sentiment echoed by most of Tyneside.

Keegan's claim was for £25,107,534

Comprising of: £8,607,534 for the money left on his contract that ran until 30 June 2011.

£16,500,000 for what he said were "stigma damages". The tribunal described this as the earnings Keegan claimed he would potentially have lost out on because he would have been unable to get a job in the years up to his 65th birthday.

What he was awarded: £2m. As per his original contract.

Ignacio Gonzalez: In the spotlight

An attacking midfielder who started his career in his native Uruguay in 2002, Ignacio Gonzalez spent five seasons with Montevideo club Danubio where he won two league titles. In January 2008 he joined Monaco on loan for six months but played just five league games.

In August 2008 Gonzalez joined Valencia but no sooner had he passed his medical than he was sent out to Newcastle on loan. Valencia coach Unai Emery clearly didn’t want to keep the Uruguayan. He said he already had four top quality players who could play in his position and what he really needed was a centre-forward.

Emery added: “It’s my decision that he does not stay. I accept the fact that we sign him on the condition that he does not form part of the squad right now. I have seen him play and he has some qualities but right now we have enough players.” So “Nacho” moved to Newcastle but played in just two games as a second-half substitute: first as Newcastle lost at home to Hull on 13 September and then in another defeat away to West Ham on 20 September.

Gonzalez has not featured in a single competitive game for Valencia this season. He scored in the club’s first pre-season friendly but was then sent off, and the club spent the whole summer trying to get rid of him. Finally they gave him the No 25 shirt and he seems to be their 25th choice player as he doesn’t even feature on the bench.

Pete Jenson

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