Time of the essence as Keegan begins search for new recruits

Click to follow
The Independent Football

At least one centre-half, a left-back, an athletic box-to-box midfielder and a deep-lying, inventive forward who might be termed Beardsleyesque – Kevin Keegan may have said yesterday: "It is a strong, talented group of players, which is something I did not have when I came last time," about this Newcastle United squad, but during his afternoon-long meeting with the chairman, Chris Mort, at the club's training ground, he will also have surely noted that there is room for improvement.

January, every manager testifies, is a troublesome month to be buying players anyway, but if, as Keegan admitted, he has barely watched a live match since leaving Manchester City almost three years ago, he will be relying on the recommendations of others. He simply does not have the time to get scouting.

As he walked around the training ground yesterday in the company of only his former assistant and playing colleague from Liverpool and Newcastle, Terry McDermott, Keegan will have been absorbing information as to where this Newcastle team is short. If McDermott is wise, he will have mentioned defence.

Considering Keegan's predecessor, Sam Allardyce, brought in five defenders in the summer – Habib Beye, Claudio Cacapa, Abdoulaye Faye, David Rozehnal and Jose Enrique – the situation should not exist. But Beye and Faye are at the African Nations Cup, Cacapa and Rozehnal have not settled easily to English football's pace and aggression and Enrique is struggling to justify his £6.3m price tag.

With Newcastle consistently linked with Chelsea's Wayne Bridge, this would be the sort of signing that would make Keegan look switched on. It would also be a signal of the club owner Mike Ashley's intent.

In the centre of defence, while there is a lot of local pride invested in Steven Taylor, the 21-year-old is sometimes rash and would benefit from an authority figure alongside him. Richard Dunne, whom Keegan knows from City, has matured over the past couple of years. Now 28, Dunne is said to have toned down his lifestyle and his consistency is being seen as the reward. But it also makes him expensive and, this month, extremely difficult to shift. Even harder to recruit would be his team-mate Micah Richards, but that would be a statement.

Those are players Keegan knows from English football but he has never been afraid to shop abroad. David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla and Philippe Albert were signature signings in his first spell as Newcastle manager.

During Allardyce's early days in charge last summer, he went to Barcelona to talk to Edmilson, Brazil's World Cup-winning defender/defensive midfielder. There is something of the languid style of Albert about Edmilson. Although he was injured, it was said some form of agreement had been reached that the two parties would re-evaluate when Edmilson was fit again.

Because of his Bolton past, Eidur Gudjohnsen was also mentioned in dispatches then. The 29-year-old attacker has the Peter Beardsley element and Keegan may well have been given Allardyce's list of targets – on Tuesday the caretaker manager, Nigel Pearson, stressed the work that had gone into "talent ID" under Allardyce. The Toulouse striker Johan Elmander was probably on it. The 26-year-old Swede was the subject of a third-party enquiry from Newcastle in November. Like other English clubs such as West Ham and Tottenham, Newcastle were quoted €14m (£11m) and told Elmander sees himself as a Champions League player.

With Michael Owen, who Alan Shearer believes will be able to work smoothly with Keegan despite their England past, Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins at St James' Park, strikers are not a priority. Keegan may also see Alan Smith as one because Smith has not convinced in midfield.

It is there that attention is required. Nicky Butt has been good so far this season, but he cannot dominate a game in the manner Newcastle need. Mohamed Sissoko is not a player one would normally associate with Keegan, but he is available at Liverpool.

The coming fortnight will tell us more but there is a theory that Keegan thinks the squad will be satisfactory until the summer. Then, according to one of the other rumours sweeping Tyneside yesterday, Keegan has been told by Ashley to think the unthinkable. Some say Newcastle already have by bringing him back, but, if the club are to compete with the established top four, that is what Keegan will have to do. Presumably he would do so with a smile on his face.

Reality check on Tyneside

After the whirlwind of Wednesday there was a pause at Newcastle United yesterday. Kevin Keegan went to the Benton training ground where he addressed his squad. Keegan and his chairman, Chris Mort, then began a meeting that lasted the bulk of the afternoon. Decisions have to be made not only about activity in the January window but also about the staff accumulated by Sam Allardyce.

Three aristocrats who could join the court of King Kev

Wayne Bridge

The Chelsea full-back would fill a problem position for Newcastle and show that Keegan is switched on.

Micah Richards

The 19-year-old Manchester City centre-half would cost the earth, but his capture would be a statement of intent.

Johan Elmander

The Toulouse striker would fit the bill, but when Newcastle enquired about him in November the price was £11m.