History holds against Keegan making happy return

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The Independent Football

For every Harry Redknapp, there is a Howard Kendall. For every Graham Taylor there is a, well, Graham Taylor. The adage goes that managers who return to their former clubs never repeat their success and the adage is, with a few startling exceptions, usually proved correct. Still it does not stop clubs trying.

It is usually an emotional, romantic notion, an attempt to recreate past glories which explains exactly why chairmen and chief executives often turn to the man who plotted those successes in the first place and, often, at the behest of their supporters. And it is why those men, with the exception, for example, of Paul Jewell who this season declined going back to Wigan Athletic, only for Steve Bruce to agree to do exactly that, usually say yes.

Even Fabio Capello has done it. Twice. And with contrasting fortunes. Two spells at Real Madrid – separated by nine years – were successful as they delivered league titles, although they were also short-lived as they lasted a single season each time and were punctuated by friction. At Milan he won the European Cup in 1994 and trophies aplenty, but then left in 1998, after one barren campaign.

There is no formula to it working – although there is a contradiction at its heart. The managers are usually brought back to recapture what they did before, which adds instant pressure. But because they were successful in their first spell it can also buy them more time. Taylor can testify to that. He was hired by Elton John to manage Watford in 1977, stayed for 10 years with the club shooting through the divisions and reaching an FA Cup final. Taylor's reputation was made, so it seemed fitting that he should return 10 years further on to oversee two promotions. And even if Watford lasted just one campaign in the Premier League, he was again a success.

But then he made the error of reneging on the promise he had made himself to retire – and ended up returning to Aston Villa. In his first spell, between 1987-90, he gained promotion and guided them to third in the old First Division, helping earn the England manager's job. But when he went back 12 years later he lasted just one season before walking away disillusioned as Villa finished 16th.

Redknapp has been a resounding success and there are parallels with Keegan in the emotional investment he has made in Portsmouth. He returned after a sojourn at Southampton to transform the team from an apparent certainty for relegation to challenging for European football.

It also worked at Crystal Palace for Steve Coppell, who has had four spells at Selhurst Park, including one as technical director. His first spell was the most spectacularly successful – with promotion and an FA Cup final – but his greatest triumph may have come in his last period in charge when he kept Palace in the First Division when they were in administration.

But there is a long list of failures, including Sir Matt Busby and Malcolm Allison at the two Manchester clubs. However Kendall, arguably Everton's most successful manager with two league titles, an FA Cup and European Cup-Winners' Cup, had the most disappointing time, returning twice to have his reputation damaged. But he had set himself some act to live up to.

The much-travelled Ron Atkinson did it twice, at West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday. Again he did not enjoy the same success, while Peter Shreeves' two reigns at Tottenham Hotspur were even more remarkable. Both times he was a failure which, no matter what the future holds for Keegan, cannot happen to him.