Keegan's lack of silverware does not tell whole story

Click to follow
The Independent Football

If Kevin Keegan's managerial career, which has surely now reached its conclusion, is assessed on honours alone it would have to be regarded as a failure compared to the standards he set as a player.

If Kevin Keegan's managerial career, which has surely now reached its conclusion, is assessed on honours alone it would have to be regarded as a failure compared to the standards he set as a player. In the 13 years since he turned his back on the golf courses of Spain, and walked back into the game as manager of Newcastle United, Keegan only won three trophies: the divisional titles which accompanied promotion success with Newcastle, Manchester City, and Fulham.

However, Keegan's legacy cannot be measured just by silverware. He was a key figure in the rejuvenation of those clubs, especially Newcastle who would probably have gone bankrupt without his intervention, and his teams produced some of the most thrilling football of the Premiership era. He also managed England, steering them to Euro 2000 and their first competitive victory over Germany since 1966.

That success was soured by the team's abysmal football in the tournament, and the subsequent loss to Germany in the World Cup qualifiers, in the last match to be played at the old Wembley. After that game Keegan resigned - informing Football Association officials in the dressing room toilet - and admitted he was "short at this level".

It seemed his managerial days were over but he was lured back by the challenge of managing Manchester City. Under him they achieved one of the great FA Cup comebacks, winning 4-3 at Tottenham with 10 men after being 3-0 down at half-time. Despite spending heavily he was not, however, able to sustain that success and presented an increasingly tetchy figure as City continued to experience wide deviations in form - they are the only team to defeat Chelsea in the league this season, but went out in the FA Cup to lowly neighbours Oldham Athletic.

It was ever thus for as a manager Keegan was predominantly a tub-thumper, a man who inspired his players emotionally rather than tactically. This style of management can produce dramatic results but is difficult to sustain over the long haul. Tactics were not generally his forte, especially when it came to defending, though ironically City have had one of the best defensive records in the Premiership this season.

Perhaps the penny had finally dropped for when he managed Newcastle his approach to the subject was illustrated by the experiences of Mark Lawrenson - his old Liverpool team-mate - who he hired as a defensive coach in response to the team's much-criticised frailties at the back. Lawrenson would arrive at training, having planned a defensive drill, only for Keegan to tell him not to bother with it, the squad would practise volleys and play five-a-side instead. It made for a thrilling but vulnerable team which captured the imagination of the public but not the league title despite leading the Premiership by 12 points midway through the 1995-96 season.

That season will forever be remembered on Tyneside as a glorious one of missed opportunity. It will also be recalled for Keegan's extraordinary outburst live on television when he said he would "just love it" if his team pipped rivals Manchester United for the title. That incident was an extreme example of Keegan's tendency to manage with his heart on his sleeve. Newcastle discovered this early on when he walked out after a few months claiming the job "wasn't like it said in the brochure".

Since Keegan had awoken extraordinary public support on his return to St James Park, and looked the only man who could prevent them sliding into the old Third Division, the board gave in to his demands. Later on at Newcastle, having stunned supporters by selling Andy Cole to Manchester United, he went onto the steps of St James' to explain his reasoning to fans.

Keegan's playing career was a triumph of will. Rejected by Coventry for being too small the miner's son from Doncaster dedicated himself to making the grade and was eventually taken on by Scunthorpe United. He worked at his game throughout his career going on to shine for Liverpool, and succeed in Hamburg, captaining England and twice winning the European Footballer of the Year award. When it came to management, however, he found, like so many others, that he was beholden to 11 others and that desire, and passion, were no longer enough.


Gordon Strachan

Proven experience in the Premiership and out of work since last year when leaving Southampton, whom he took to their best-ever finish in the Premiership as well as to the FA Cup final of 2003 on limited resources. Is known to be seeking a return to top-flight management. A motivator, liable to be popular with many fans for his effervescent style although a minority might question his previous links with Manchester United.

Iain Dowie

Has worked wonders at Crystal Palace taking them from the foot of the First Division last season to the Premiership and then keeping them in with a fighting chance of survival, which is about as much as you can ask for Palace these days. Fiercely intelligent, astute in the transfer market and with few peers in the motivation stakes. City could tempt him with the promise, rather than the hope, of Premiership football next season.

Martin O'Neill

Something of a long shot. It would be a considerable comedown to move to a club which perennially flatter to deceive and frustrate their fans. Although it is widely believed that O'Neill does see his career moving south of the border at some stage, another district of Manchester is more likely to be his destination. There is little reason for him to accept second-best now when the job many think he is destined for is likely to be available within a season or two.

Stuart Pearce

Pearce has no experience in a job at this level, which would be the biggest hurdle in the eyes of the City board. However, a stunning cameo in the role could yet project the former England captain in among the front-runners, and his no-nonsense, passionate style will ensure he always gives it his best shot. Realistically, however, he is likely to find his chance curtailed by the desire of the board to find someone with more experience.