Sam Wallace: Keegan's 'stigma damages' claim was as greedy as it was astonishing

Talking Football: Keegan's claim for £16.5m smacked of a man who was out to get whatever he could
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When it came to picking sides, Mike Ashley v Kevin Keegan was a no-brainer. You would no sooner choose Ashley over Keegan than you would pick Bush over Obama; Mick Hucknall over Morrissey or Phil Brown's best suit over Jose Mourinho's best suit.

And when it came to the tribunal's findings on the departure of Keegan from Newcastle almost a year ago, published on Friday, the conduct of the club was as depressing as it was predictable. The shock was Keegan's part in it.

It was not the part of his case in which Keegan asked for £8.6m, the remainder of his contract at Newcastle, that was hard to believe. The £8.6m was steep but, even though his contract clearly stipulated he was due only £2m in the event of his dismissal, you could just about understand why Keegan went for the full value of his original deal.

What was remarkable about Keegan's claim was the £16.5m that he wanted in "stigma damages". That was an astonishing amount of money based on a claim so flimsy that it was thrown out without hesitation by the tribunal. It smacked of a man who was out to get whatever he could. It was just plain greedy.

Keegan wanted £16.5m on top of his contract because, he told the tribunal, his treatment at the hands of Newcastle had stigmatised him to the extent that "he has found it and will continue to find it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain work again as a top flight manager". The £16.5m, he claimed, was the "income which he would otherwise reasonably have expected to receive up to his 65th birthday."

Apart from the money, what really jumped out from the page was the word "reasonably". Who other than Keegan thought it would be reasonable that he had that kind of earning potential left in him – regardless of whether he had spent those nine months at Newcastle or not?

Before Keegan came back into football by Ashley in January 2008 he was working full-time at his Soccer Circus enterprise in Glasgow in which he had invested his own money. He had not worked in football since departing Manchester City in March 2005. He was certainly not being courted by the sort of clubs that would pay him £2m a year, which would be the rough average he would need to make annually to earn £16.5m by retirement age.

In fact, in March 2007, 10 months before his shock return to Newcastle, Keegan gave an interview to The Independent to promote Soccer Circus in which he admitted that his interest in professional football was such that he hardly ever watched it either in person or on television.

In another newspaper interview around that time he said that management had become "stale" for him. "If you don't enjoy it, if you don't look forward to working with your players, then you have to get out," Keegan said. "It got to the stage where I thought, 'Hold on, is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?' "

This did not sound like a man who believed he would earn £16.5m before his 65th birthday as a manager. Yet by the time he had departed Newcastle for the second time, around 18 months after he said those words, Keegan was thinking very differently. Not bad going for someone who thought the job had gone stale.

At least when Keegan was questioned by the tribunal about his £16.5m "stigma damages" claim it seems that he had the decency to realise that he had taken his claim too far. The tribunal reported: "When cross-examined, Mr Keegan very fairly accepted that Clause 14.8.1 [the part of his contract which entitled him to just £2m compensation] was fair and reasonable."

Why Keegan took the Newcastle job will always be a mystery but judging by the kind of compensation he has sought from Ashley one can assume it had a lot to do with money. Ashley appointed him because the owner desperately needed a manager who could take the heat off him as the recession started to bite and Newcastle's fortunes slipped on the pitch. It was a mistake for both men.

Neither Keegan nor Newcastle have emerged from this débâcle with much credit. The Ashley camp's behind-the-scenes blundering was astonishing. They said one thing in private and another in public. It will be hard ever to take them seriously again.

As for Keegan, he seemed to be the man betrayed in all this. At first you found yourself rooting for him. This was, after all, a man who told The Independent in March 2007 before he took the Newcastle job for a second time: "I just see football for what it is, which is all about money."

On that occasion it was a world-weary assessment from one of English football's best-loved characters. More than two years later, when Keegan filed his £16.5m stigma claim, he was not just making the point about football's ungodly partnership with money – he was proving it.

Sir Alex should face charge over nasty referee comment

The referee Alan Wiley can look forward to lots of abuse from football crowds about his fitness for the rest of the season. For that he has Sir Alex Ferguson to thank.

Ferguson's comments about Wiley's fitness were nasty and they present a challenge to the Football Association. The governing body have to protect their referee or we might as well declare open season on them from now on. On referees, managers are not allowed to imply bias, lack of integrity or make comments of a personal nature. I'd say that the last of the three should earn Ferguson an FA charge.

Gunners singalong fails to find its voice

Just a polite suggestion to Arsenal, but after a year or so of trying, their pre-match song 'The Wonder of You' has not caught on as the club's equivalent to 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at Anfield.

It was brave of Arsenal to give it a go – they even run the lyrics on the big screen to try to encourage a singalong – but, let's face it, the fans at the Emirates are not exactly the noisiest bunch anyway.

At Liverpool 'You'll Never Walk Alone' conjures up a mood of solemn, unbreakable solidarity. 'The Wonder of You' feels like a karaoke session when someone programs in the wrong song number.

Long wait for Tevez?

Carlos Tevez has warned that when he scores against Manchester United he will not react with the same restraint as he did when he scored against West Ham. With Tevez's goalscoring record I'd make that an 'if' he scores against United rather than a 'when'.

Comments