The big spender who rarely got his fingers burnt

Most Geordies would agree that the £60m which Kevin Keegan spent on transfer fees during his first spell as Newcastle's manager between February 1992 and January 1997 produced good value. While there were signings who polarised opinion – was £6.7m Tino Asprilla a genius or a jinx? – it is hard to find too many stonking failures, especially expensive ones.

Keegan bought with growth in mind: first to gain promotion and then to take on the big boys. Even when he bought players who did not make the grade alongside better team-mates – the striker Alex Mathie from Morton, defender Marc Hottiger from FC Sion, Darren Huckerby from Lincoln or Ruel Fox from Norwich – he mostly sold them for profit. He cleared £100,000 on Hottiger, £215,000 on Mathie, £500,000 on Huckerby and almost £2m on Fox.

Keegan's expenditure has to be taken in context. With sales during his tenure of more than £20m, his net outlay was £40m, not £60m. That figure equates almost exactly to what he spent in his final splurges between June 1995 and July 1996, when he bought Warren Barton (£4m), Les Ferdinand (£6m), David Ginola (£2.5m), Shaka Hislop (£1.5m), Huckerby (£500,000), Asprilla (£6.7m), David Batty (£3.75m) and Alan Shearer (£15m).

In other words, his dealings pretty much paid for themselves until his last 18 months, and Barton, Ferdinand, Ginola, Hislop and Asprilla were all on board to play large parts in the remarkable 1995-96 season when Newcastle looked like title-winners for so long.

In assessing Keegan's best and worst Newcastle buys (see panel), several criteria were considered, not just price but what a player contributed while Keegan was at the club.

So, in answer to "What, no Shearer?", the reply is a simple "no". Keegan made him the world's most expensive player and Shearer went on to become one of the club's greatest goalscorers and icons. But then you expect a lot of goals for £15m and on the basis that he was only at St James' Park for the last six months of Keegan's reign, he is discounted.

Our top five all did more for Keegan while he was still there. Andy Cole, bought for £1.75m from Bristol City and sold for a whopping £6m (plus Keith Gillespie from Manchester United) has a goals-per-game ratio bettered only by one man in Newcastle's history. And it is not Shearer.

Hughie Gallacher scored 143 goals in 174 games in all competitions between 1925 and 1930, or on average a goal in 82 per cent of games. Cole's ratio was 81 per cent (68 goals in 84 games, 55 in 70 in the League). Shearer's record was 206 in 404, for a ratio of 51 per cent. He really should have tried harder.

Peter Beardsley and Rob Lee make the list for their remarkable value for money and service, Les Ferdinand for goals and David Ginola for "oo-ah, just look at that" (not least against Manchester United).

Asprilla tops the flops not because he could not be brilliant (a hat-trick against Barcelona in the Champions League, anyone?) but because he cost a packet and came to symbolise the surrendering of a title.

Mike Hooper was no ordinary goalkeeper. He had a degree in English literature and arrived at Newcastle, aged 29, from Liverpool, where he had been a steady deputy to Bruce Grobbelaar and then David James.

But he was a gaffe-prone stopper, and at £550,000, not cheap for the back-up man he became as he failed to handle the criticism of hostile fans. Although Keegan stood by him, and even suggested that he would walk out unless the supporters laid off the abuse, Hooper quit because of hate mail.

Hottiger and Mathie make the list as a fancy international and young buck respectively who did not cut it, while Paul Kitson is there for failing to find the net enough for his price tag.

There was also one Jason Drysdale, 23, a superstar-full-back-in-waiting when signed from Watford for £425,000 in August 1994. He is omitted because most people have never heard of him. He never played a first-team game. He was sold, at a loss, to Swindon.

But then you cannot have everything, as Keegan will tell you.

Keegan's transfer dealings in his first Newcastle stint

BEST FIVE BUYS:

Bought (cost/from/when)/Sold Newc: league games/(goals)

Andy Cole £1.7m/Br City/Mar 93/£6m, Man Utd, 95 70 (55)

Astonishing goals ratio, massive profit when sold – what's not to like?

Peter Beardsley £1.4m/Everton/Jul 93/£450k, Bolton, 97 129 (47)

Geordie hero, creative and prolific, form earned England recall.

Rob Lee £700k/Charlton/Sep 92/£250k, Derby, 02 303 (44)

Fantastic value, as versatile as enduring in the Toon's heady rise.

Les Ferdinand £6m/QPR/Jun 95/£6m, Spurs, 97 68 (41)

Another goal machine, took Newcastle to brink of title.

David Ginola £2.5m/PSG/Jul 95/£2m, Spurs, 97 58 (6)

Oo la la flair drew punters through the turnstiles, because "'e was worth eet."

WORST FIVE BUYS:

Bought (cost/from/when)/Sold Newc: league games/(goals)

Tino Asprilla £6.7m/Parma/Feb 96/£6m, Parma, 98 48 (9)

Dazzling talent but mercurial, expensive and unsettled the side at a key time.

Mike Hooper £550k/Liverpool/Sep 93/Retired, 96 25 (-)

Goalkeeper's blunders led to hate mail and ultimately retirement.

Marc Hottiger £600k/FC Sion/Aug 94/£700k, Everton, 96 39 (1)

Swiss defender, signed on the back of a World Cup but faltered after a year.

Alex Mathie £285k/Morton/Jul 93/£500k, Ipswich, 95 25 (4)

Young Scottish forward who did not cut the mustard in better company.

Paul Kitson £2.25m/Derby/Sep 94/£2.3m, West Ham, 97 36 (10)

Injuries did not help but 10 goals in two and a half years was poor value.

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