Until a few days ago, the prospect of Manchester City playing Tottenham did not even need to involve player comparisons to have the pundits salivating: just the thought of two former international giants and England managers in dug-out contention was enough.
Then Spurs sacked Glenn Hoddle, and though Kevin Keegan is sympathetic about Hoddle's absence from this afternoon's contest at the City of Manchester Stadium, he is not surprised. "As managers we are all in it knowing full well why," he said, still kitted out in light-blue tracksuit after Friday's session at City's Carrington training ground. "We live and die by results. I don't think anyone has ever sacked a manager for having good results.
"Of course, not every Premiership manager is going to get good results. But that's what we need, that's the name of the game, and I guess that's the thing they will say about Glenn. If you look at his results from January until now, you can't argue with it. If you have been where Glenn and I have been you can't afford to have a bad start to the season, you just can't."
He added: "But I feel really sorry for him. Six games into a season is nothing really, is it? If you want to be constructive, which not many people want to be, there are reasons if you want to look for them, with a lot of players out injured. But people didn't want to look. So yeah, I think he has been hard done by."
Keegan acknowledged that he and Hoddle were not close. "But I don't know if anyone is really close to Glenn. I don't mean that unkindly, but it seemed there was a bit of a witch-hunt against Glenn. The same will happen to me one day, of course, because of where we have been and what we have done as players, maybe because we both managed England. We understand the reasons why. Although Glenn will be disappointed by what happened, he won't be surprised.
"He got a lot of negative press, with everybody saying he was under pressure. When you have betting on managers getting the sack, well, we know it sells newspapers, but I do think it has been whipped up a bit. But it's the world we live in."
So, was former England managership perhaps a dangerous thing? "To me, it doesn't matter any more," Keegan said. "I can't answer for Glenn, but for me it has finished. That's it, gone. I would have preferred not to have had it on my CV, having had two years of it, to be honest, but you have to go in there and find that out. But I am not saying any more about that."
He was, though, quite prepared to range over the hurdles facing his own club and the game of football in this country. Of this afternoon's match, Keegan felt: "When you start thinking about what has happened to Spurs there are pluses and minuses for us. Their players could respond to David Pleat in a way that makes it difficult for us. They went to Coventry in midweek and got a good result.
"You could also say there are advantages for us if we take them, but we are going to have to earn anything we get, and that is the case whether they were with Hoddle or Pleat. They have Robbie Keane back after injury, a big plus, so we are treating it as one we would like to win. But if we are not right on top of our game we could end up on the wrong end of a result."
A result was what City managed to eke out on Wednesday night in the Uefa Cup against Lokeren, though Keegan briskly admitted: "It didn't feel like a win." While insisting the club's supporters are "the best in the world", he did not hold back from criticising the way they booed off his players at half-time in that match. "We had had a lot of possession," he said, "worked very hard. But of course we gave away two silly goals."
The one so embarrassingly let in by David Seaman was enough to revive post-match comments about gaffes from a 40-year-old. "It was a poor goal to concede," said Keegan. "David apologised at half-time." But he offered his ex-England man a consolation. "The man who hasn't made a mistake hasn't been born yet."
And that includes referees. Keegan is concerned by what he calls "the power nowadays of a referee to really decide a match", adding: "The way the rules are now, the way yellow and red cards play a big part in it, the way penalties are given now for challenges you think, 'That was never a penalty', it's very hard to see many 0-0 results any more.
"You get a penalty, the keeper saves it and he is told, 'Sorry, but you moved, take it again'. If you don't move, you ain't gonna save nothing. The people who make these rules aren't people who have played the game. It's no good people saying it will sort itself out, it won't. The problem needs to be addressed, and quick, otherwise we are going to get some more embarrassing situations like that in the next few weeks, where keepers make great saves and the penalty is taken again."
Should there be a dispute today, Keegan's opinion will perforce carry weight as a former England man and England manager. After all, of the six one-time England bosses who operated in the Premiership, only two remain, Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan. "Thanks for reminding me about that," he grinned. "It looks like me next, then."Reuse content