Keegan's new regime continues club policy of keeping the fans guessing

Click to follow

The concept of strange development at Newcastle United is hardly novel but even by that club's level of unpredictability the imminent appointment of Dennis Wise to an unspecified role somewhere adjacent to Kevin Keegan takes some comprehending.



Yesterday, Keegan was calm and apparently at ease with the impending arrival of Wise and two others who will lead a new recruitment team at the club. That was his public face anyway. Privately, he may share the scepticism of others in the game that says this should be Keegan's appointment alone, an important moment in redirecting Newcastle under his leadership. Sam Allardyce, his predecessor, made his own appointments after all, dozens of them.

Therein, though, may lie an explanation. We await the Newcastle chairman Chris Mort's views but Mort may well have foreseen a situation where Allardyce's men were replaced by Keegan's and then by the next man. "I think it's a bigger business and we're a bigger club than when he was here last," Mort said at Keegan's unveiling. "We don't want to overburden him with responsibilities. We're not going to say, 'Kevin, go and sort out the academy or go and sort out international recruitment.' We wouldn't expect Kevin to have that on his plate."

One of Mort's keywords is continuity but it is no Newcastle tradition. Some in the business world say that the owner, Mike Ashley, fits the club because he is too impulsive to second-guess. If that is only partly true, then there are signs that his style is filtering through.

This has been a whirlwind period even by the exacting standards of St James' Park. It is worth remembering – though it is easy to forget – that 18 days ago the manager's job at St James' was Harry Redknapp's to turn down. On the night of Friday 11th, the Portsmouth manager met Mort in London and was the stroke of a pen away from being Allardyce's successor. What happened subsequently was that Redknapp said no, but then Mark Hughes emerged.

As late as Tuesday 15th Hughes' camp thought the job was his and their belief was grounded in contact. It was not make-believe. But around 18 hours later many thought that is what happened when the third coming of Keegan was announced.

Locally and nationally the public were astonished. Outside St James' children held up their parents' Special K cereal boxes and as an image of the surreal nature of Tyneside this past fortnight, that is unbeatable. There have been others, though. Keegan at his unveiling press conference displayed the combination of emotion and enthusiasm that has made his return so acceptable to the club's fans. It took Keegan to mention Redknapp because others had moved on so quickly.

There were cringes when Keegan talked about southerners and theatre, but Newcastle supporters have bought into Keegan regardless of private misgivings about his temperament and, at 56, his ability to pour himself into the post the way he did first time as manager. Newcastle sold 5,000 tickets for the trip to Arsenal last Saturday, 3,000 for tonight against the same opponents. Most fans know they will be beaten twice and yet they go because Keegan's arrival has lifted the gloom that set in around Allardyce. That is an upside to Keegan felt locally, if not elsewhere.

He also dissolved the Michael Owen issue that first day by revealing that Owen would be captain. He then set off on a pursuit of Alan Shearer that continued at Newcastle's training ground last night. This has been remarkably public and long-winded but Keegan's eagerness for Shearer to have some role on the training ground has not been dimmed by Shearer's apparent reluctance to be anything other than the main figure at Newcastle.

There was no word from either man last night but it would be worth knowing if Jonathan Woodgate's name cropped up. According to Woodgate's father, Alan, his son would have joined Newcastle if Shearer was on board. The absence of Woodgate leaves Newcastle without the much anticipated Keegan transfer splash. He may have been linked with numerous players but none has yet walked in and there are only three days left of this window.

Keegan was not overly optimistic yesterday. "It's frustrating," he said, "but you have to be realistic – you don't catch every fish you put your rod out for, no manager does. Sometimes you can pinch one and sometimes you can't. I've had success and failure in that respect. I've only got a small rod now with no bait and the tide is going out."

It was a further arresting image with which to decorate Newcastle and tonight at Arsenal will provide another. Keegan said yesterday that Joey Barton would be on the bench. Barton's bail conditions have changed to allow this to occur but legally little else can be added.

Suffice to say, Joey Barton and Dennis Wise make interesting colleagues.

Saint who became a Magpie: Wise's record in management

Highs and lows:

2004 April. Millwall beat Sunderland 1-0 at Old Trafford, with Wise playing, to reach the FA Cup final for the first time.

May. Millwall lose 3-0 to Manchester United in the final, but qualify for the Uefa Cup.

2005 May. Steps down as Millwall manager following a meeting with new club chairman Jeff Burnige.

June. Joins Southampton as joint caretaker manager with Dave Bassett.

2006 October Takes over at Leeds United.

2007 May. Leeds are relegated to League One.

2008 3 January. Interviewed by police after he chases youth who threw stones at his family car.

28 January. Leaves for Newcastle with Leeds fifth despite starting season with 15 points deduction.

Comments