Keegan departs City as board begins search for new manager

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The Independent Football

Kevin Keegan's turbulent four years in charge of Manchester City came to a dramatic end last night when the former England coach was sacked by the Premiership club.

Kevin Keegan's turbulent four years in charge of Manchester City came to a dramatic end last night when the former England coach was sacked by the Premiership club.

The growing sense of dissatisfaction at City with Keegan's performance at the club over the last 18 months finally persuaded chairman John Wardle to dismiss the 54-year-old who has said in the past that this would be his last managerial role in English football following stints with Newcastle, Fulham and England.

In the end, Wardle proved the key to Keegan's sacking. The low-profile multi-millionaire chairman of City - who owns the JD Sports chain with fellow board member David Makin - has been a staunch defender of his manager but finally decided that the time was right for Keegan to leave.

Sources at the club have said that, following another season of under-achievement, Keegan has barely looked like a man who is interested in managing a Premiership side. His disastrous impromptu decision to announce, on the last day of last season, that he would not stay beyond a contract that expires in July 2006 also caused grave concern in the Manchester City boardroom.

There were many on the board who favoured a change of leadership during the summer and it is understood that the more hawkish elements were deputy chairman Bryan Bodek and Ashley Lewis, who represents the 18 per cent shareholding held by the Boler family.

The club's highly-regarded chief executive Alistair Mackintosh also fell into the anti-Keegan camp and with former player Dennis Tueart prepared to go with the majority, Wardle finally gave way to the will of his board members. His discussions with Keegan over the nature of his departure are understood to have begun as early as last week and the club will announce today that Keegan is leaving "by mutual consent". The reality, as one City source said yesterday, is that the club are putting Keegan "out of his misery" after a reign that began in the First Division in May 2001 and saw the club promoted back to the Premiership the following year. However, those within the club have seen the former Liverpool striker's enthusiasm for the job fade badly over the last 18 months.

The club will announce today that the City coach, and former England international, Stuart Pearce will take charge of the side for their next Premiership match away at Tottenham Hotspur on 19 March. Ironically it was at White Hart Lane a little more than a year ago that Keegan enjoyed one of his finest nights as City manager when his team came back from 3-0 down at half-time to win an FA Cup tie 4-3 with just 10 men.

The club have already discussed the possibility of targeting the Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie as a long-term replacement for Keegan. Dowie left Oldham Athletic to take over at Palace in December 2003 but the former Northern Ireland international still has a home in the north-west where his wife and two young children live.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill has been suggested as a possibility for the job and Gordon Strachan will also be considered although the former Manchester United player is thought to be something of an outsider.

Mackintosh, who has brought City's £62m debt under control in the last year, will look to bring in a manager who is aware of the club's financial restrictions. Keegan's relationship with the board deteriorated last season when City's form slumped as they finished 16th in the table. Although City are currently 12th in the Premiership, the club felt they could not risk another season of under-achievement while Keegan saw out his time.

The sale of Nicolas Anelka to Fenerbahce for £7m in the January transfer window was supported by Keegan who had become exasperated with the French striker. He was allowed to bring the winger Kiki Musampa in on loan from Atletico Madrid but his problems increased this month when Shaun Wright-Phillips was ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury.

The City manager has been beset by injury problems this season with Sun Jihai and Trevor Sinclair both out for the whole campaign. After being given generous transfer funds during his first two seasons in the Premiership, Keegan was restricted last summer to bringing in free transfers Danny Mills and Ben Thatcher and goalkeepers Ronald Waterreus and Gert de Vlieger.

The side crashed out of the Carling Cup to an Arsenal team made up largely of players from Arsène Wenger's youth teams and Keegan admitted that his side's performance had been "embarrassing".

While Keegan has often protested that money has been tight at City he did spend £30.5m in a nine-month period during the 2001-2002 season on Lucien Mettomo, Cristian Negouai, Jon Macken, Sun Jihai, Matias Vuoso and Anelka. The board believe, with some justification, they have always tried to back their manager.