Alan Shearer must either swallow his considerable pride or start out on the managerial ladder somewhere other than Newcastle United if he wants one day to take charge of the club he loves.
Kevin Keegan intends speaking to Shearer now that yesterday's eagerly awaited but fruitless first game against Bolton is out of the way, and he has the gift of a job in his hands, but Shearer's assertion that he does not see himself as a No 2 anywhere has struck a wrong chord.
Furthermore, Newcastle's chairman Chris Mort believes Shearer would need managerial experience before taking the job of his dreams at St James' Park.
Then there is the perceived tension between Newcastle's record signing and the man who paid £15m to keep him out of Manchester United's clutches 12 years ago. "I'd like to think there's no animosity but if you're asking does Alan ring me as much as he used to, then no," Keegan said. On Tyneside, as much a hotbed of rumour as of football, the belief is his absence from Shearer's testimonial in May 2006, either in person or in the match programme, led to a deteriorating relationship.
Keegan insists: "I couldn't come back for his testimonial because I had a family holiday in the States. I will talk to Alan but it's possibly true that that did offend him in some way. I always thought we were great friends. We had a fantastic and very honest relationship. We're two people who say what we think. If that's why he doesn't ring me any more, that's disappointing. I'll ring him and ask him."
No doubt it will be a frank discussion. But what if Shearer sticks to his stated position – a frankly arrogant one for somebody with no coaching experience – of not considering himself a second-in-command to anyone? "Then in that case he's not going to come here is he?" Keegan said. "What am I going to fetch him in as – joint manager? If he says he doesn't want to be a No 2 then there's no point having a long conversation." Shearer, offered the chance to express greater enthusiasm on Match of the Day last night, remained resolutely non-committal. "I haven't really thought about it," he said.
In his romantic way, Keegan always believed that Newcastle would one day come knocking on his door and has now revealed that he once told Shearer that the same thing will happen to him: "I had a conversation when he was in his last year here [as a player] and we were playing golf. The manager's job at Newcastle came up and I said to him 'it will come for you one day, you don't have to go looking for it'. Why? Because they knew this guy will look after our club. They know any mistakes we make will be genuine because as players we were honest. Sadly, some of the other guys who've been [managers] here can't do that because they haven't played here and proved themselves. That's maybe why they've struggled."
He added: "Alan's said his things in the paper but the only time we'll really know if it's on is when the two of us speak. I think there's an involvement for Alan Shearer at this football club and that at this moment could be on his terms. He's got other obligations and commitments. What a fantastic player to have around in the art of goalscoring and finishing. But if you can't be there on Saturdays for example because you've got to do television work, you can't think of being a No 2. I'm probably saying to him 'do you see any role for yourself?'"
Mort and Newcastle's owner Mike Ashley are happy for Keegan to make the key decisions about which of the many staff brought in by his predecessor, Sam Allardyce, Newcastle keep. But Mort never saw a rookie like Shearer walking straight into the manager's job and believes he should experience those pressures before taking on a position as demanding as the one at St James'. "I'd be more comfortable, and I've said it to Alan, if he had some managerial experience," he said. "If you see what this club's been through since Sir Bobby Robson's time, it's a tough job and a big job. Our sense is that we need somebody who's been there and done it. Alan ticks a lot of boxes and he's been there and done it as a player but he's not yet done it as a manager."
Although Keegan offered to resign at least four times in his last stint at the club, Mort is convinced he will this time honour a contract that runs until the end of the 2010-11 season. "I'm aware of Kevin's history at this club and other clubs. We're going into it with our eyes open. Kevin has an infectious enthusiasm, which means he'll turn the first team round very quickly."
Keegan has set a daunting target of doing so quickly enough to win this season's FA Cup, in which Newcastle visit Arsenal on Saturday. "There are possibilities to win cups," he said, "because the big four treat them with a little bit of disrespect. They say they don't, but they do. I'm hoping Arsenal will do that. And either Arsenal have got the best kids in the world or our best players are better than their kids."