Kevin Keegan travels to London this morning for an 11am meeting with the Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, that will define his future at St James' Park and whether he, Ashley and the director of football Dennis Wise have a working relationship acceptable to all three men.
Ashley and Keegan go to the meeting with no intention of making it their last but, 114 days on from Keegan's appointment as manager, that remains a possibility if the discussion does not resolve the issues that divide the men.
There is definite tension. Keegan expressed his doubts about Newcastle's progress publicly on Monday after the 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea but, privately, Ashley also has misgivings. The 45-year-old owner was angered by the public nature of Keegan's remarks, as well as the content – particularly on finance and transfer budget, as it is apparent that the manager has been given definitive details as to what is available this summer.
It is Ashley's stance that Newcastle is a business to be nurtured over the long term, not a toy. Budgets have to be met and the wage-to-turnover ratio, which is approximately 80 per cent at St James', has to be cut from that dangerous level. This does not chime with Keegan's pump-priming reputation; in his view he has three years in which to mount a challenge in the Premier League and believes the team require significant investment.
Ashley was also annoyed by Keegan saying that the two men do not talk, when they did in fact meet each other inside the ground after the Chelsea match.
That Ashley has called the meeting, when he wants to have minimal day-to-day involvement in the running of the club, is indicative of a problem.
Keegan may not regard a post-match chat as being the equivalent of in-depth conversations about the state of the club. Despite frequently saying that he is comfortable with the recruitment process headed by Wise and the club's vice-president Tony Jimenez, it is also clear that Keegan does not have the control that he did first time around as manager in the 1990s under Sir John Hall.
If Keegan senses that there are two Newcastles, one run from London, the other from Tyneside, he is not alone. If he is frustrated by internal mechanisms, the manager may feel his course of action is to make his argument in public. However, that, as all involved know, is no way to run a successful football club and even if today's meeting is amicable and positive – which is not guaranteed – Ashley is unlikely to forget the anxiety created this week. Wise is viewed as a successor-in-waiting but he would be an even less popular choice with fans than the former manager Graeme Souness. Blackburn's Mark Hughes would be a serious contender should Keegan depart.
Keegan may well have been informed of Ashley's ire and yesterday the manager's tone was less pessimistic than on Monday. Keegan gave the impression he is far from considering that Sunday's game at Everton could be his last. "I've got three years left," he said of his contract. "I am looking forward to the next three years – at least. You know, I'll only be 60 then.
"The reason we've fetched the press conference a day early is that I am going to London tomorrow to talk with Mike Ashley," Keegan added. "That's a good thing and I look forward to that."
Superficially, this morning's meeting is about transfers but Ashley and Keegan will want to receive commitments on other matters – Ashley on Keegan's public volatility, Keegan on his internal authority. If the outcome is harmonious, the club can move forward and try to capitalise on the ambition shown in trying to recruit Luka Modric, whose choice of Tottenham ahead of Newcastle last week so deflated Keegan.
"It is obvious by the fact we went in for Modric that there is some money there," Keegan said. "A lot of it has been put in the public domain – we were going to pay over three years and it was around £20m, so we were going to spend in this current year, something like £6.5m on that player, plus wages.
"As I said at my first press conference, if you turn this club around, it is like a big ship. When it is listing, everything is exaggerated and it is a major problem.
"And when you turn it round, the momentum starts to go with you and it can go quicker than most clubs, you can shortcut challenges."Reuse content