Evidence of the sometimes conflicting agendas at the top at Newcastle United came yesterday when James Milner's written transfer request was made public by the club, one week after it was actually delivered to the hierarchy at St James' Park by the 22-year-old. The outcome may be that Milner joins Aston Villa for £9m, though Milner is unhappy with his pay at Newcastle, not the overall situation.
As the club had known about the request since 20 August, it is unknown why Milner's request was revealed on the day that Keegan was due to meet with his Newcastle superiors, the owner Mike Ashley, chairman Derek Llambias and head of recruitment, Dennis Wise, to discuss matters such as player contracts, one being Milner's. Ashley wants Newcastle's extravagant wage bill chopped.
The club released the information at lunchtime on their website stating they were "very disappointed" at Milner's action, but there was no mention of them rejecting the request.
Five hours later, the Professional Footballers' Association, which acts for Milner, offered some clarification of Milner's stance. "The request was given because the player was looking for an improvement on his contract that reflected his development and his value to the club." Milner signed a new contract last year but is understood to be behind his fellow England Under-21 international Steven Taylor in salary, and quite a way behind Alan Smith, even though Milner is more important to the club.
What is known is that Keegan would award Milner an enhanced contract on the spot and that the delays involving Milner's new deal – an issue first raised several months ago – and that of Michael Owen are infuriating the Newcastle manager.
Keegan's superiors were extremely annoyed by his comments at the end of last season about Newcastle's inability to break into the top four in the near future and, though Keegan said a fortnight ago: "I do not think we have ever been closer than we are now," there is not harmony on all subjects between Keegan and Wise in particular.
Speaking after Tuesday night's 3-2 Carling Cup win at Coventry City, won by an injury-time goal from Owen, Keegan said: "Selling James Milner would be unthinkable," before adding of Owen: "I am not trying to be awkward, Michael is a very special player. He is very important to this club and my vision for it. If other people do not share that, it is their problem. I know the kind of people you need at a football club. You can wait a lifetime for people who can help take it forward and he is one. My job is to manage the club and that is what I am trying to do."
Keegan, however, is not being allowed to manage Newcastle as he did first time around between 1992 and 1997. His authority is diminished. That has seemed less relevant as Newcastle recruited Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez and Danny Guthrie, then made a fine start to the Premier League at Old Trafford and cemented that with victory over Bolton Wanderers last Saturday.
But throughout the summer and even during these otherwise positive opening two weeks of the season, Keegan has repeatedly spoken of the need to strengthen the squad. With Mark Viduka out for another month and Obafemi Martins out of Saturday's match at Arsenal, there could be a temptation to start Owen, who has made two substitute appearances since his calf strain.