Picking Barton will be a question of timing

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The Independent Online

While simultaneously turning his attention to the transfer market and starting a second era as manager of Newcastle United, Kevin Keegan has two major internal questions to answer: whether or not to offer Alan Shearer a position on the backroom staff and whether to pick Joey Barton in matches in the south of England.

Politically, Shearer may seem a delicate decision, but the fact that Newcastle are considering the logistics of Barton's bail conditions in terms of fielding him in games close to Hampshire is extraordinary.

Barton is on bail having been charged with assault in Liverpool on the morning of 27 December. He is next due in court on 16 March. Barton is receiving counselling at the Sporting Chance clinic in Hampshire and has a 7pm curfew.

Newcastle have flown him this week by helicopter to their training ground and then returned him. But a 3pm kick-off at St James' Park would be "mechanically" impossible according to chairman Chris Mort, a lawyer.

However, a 3pm kick-off in London – Newcastle are at Arsenal in the FA Cup next Saturday, for example – might be feasible. "His bail conditions do not say Joey Barton cannot play football," Mort said. "Joey's bail conditions put timing constraints on him. It's always going to be the manager's decision who plays, but if we were playing in London in the middle of the afternoon, perhaps he could play for Newcastle.

"The practicalities, though, are that he can't play at St James' Park. Could he play at Arsenal? Possibly, if you're willing to wait outside and get him home on time. It will be Kevin's decision."

Keegan knows Barton well. "I've had Joey at Manchester City since he was 16 or 17," Keegan said. "I used to watch him in the juniors. I can't control what's gone on before and I can't control what's going to happen in a courtroom but the one thing I said to Joey yesterday is the same thing I will say to you, he's a Newcastle United player and I will support him 100 per cent and help him in any way I can.

"He has openly said he needs help and the best people who can help him are people who know him and we know him.

"He's an excellent player, he can improve, he's had some little problems but I told him he's got my full support.

"I've given it to him before and he's let me down but he's got my support again. I'm convinced, having spoken to him again, that all he wants to do is come and play football at this club."

Keegan's magnanimity extended to Michael Owen, despite his criticism, and to Shearer. Although Arthur Cox, who signed Keegan for Newcastle in 1982 and who has remained a mentor, is the first appointment of the new regime, at 69 his input may be limited.

As for Shearer, Keegan said he has not yet spoken to him but would like to. "If there's a role that Alan wants and it's right, I would love to have him back. I will definitely talk to him, no doubt about that."

The expected cull of the backroom staff assembled by Sam Allardyce is also on hold. "I am going to give everyone who is employed by this club the chance to show me they want to be part of it," Keegan said. "That's what you would expect of any person coming in who has any sense of justice. Those people moved up here, Sam has gone very quickly."

Those decisions will come but, just in case this appointment is a success, this always excitable football club is again addressing the possibility of expanding the stadium. "It's something we've looked at," Mort said.

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