Keegan rules himself out of England job

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The Independent Online


Kevin Keegan, the bookmakers' favourite to succeed Terry Venables as England coach, last night told the Association he was "not interested" in leaving Newcastle when the post becomes vacant after the European Championship finals this summer.

After consultations between Keegan and Newcastle's chairman, Sir John Hall, the Premiership leaders issued a statement. In it, Keegan said: "I am interested in working for nobody but Newcastle United. We have made tremendous progress in the past four years, but I know there is still an enormous amount of work to be done to take this club where it should be."

Keegan went on to say he hoped to see out the remaining seven years of a contract he had been "only too happy to sign". Sir John said he was "delighted" with his manager's "positive response" to the situation.

The FA has thus received its first rebuff from a realistic contender. The original second favourite, Bryan Robson, said he would "answer that [the question of whether he wanted the job] if it ever comes round".

The Middlesbrough player-manager, Venables' assistant with the national team, refused to be drawn into further comment but reiterated his "100 per cent commitment" to his club, adding: "It's nice to be thought of in this way, but I am still in an apprenticeship as a manager. I have 18 months of my three-year contract to run and I don't intend moving in that time."

As heavy betting on Gerry Francis led to the Tottenham manager being installed as the new favourite, one of Venables' predecessors, Bobby Robson, was throwing his backing behind Leeds' Howard Wilkinson. "He has vast experience and is a very good manager," said Robson, now coach to Porto. "There are other obvious high-quality candidates, but perhaps the time's not right for them."

In the latter category, Robson put Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins. The Queen's Park Rangers manager is also part of Venables' staff, working with the Under-21 squad. Both lacked "experience at the top level", though he believed either could do the job using veteran England coach Don Howe as a "buffer".

The day began with Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, appearing to narrow the field when he outlined the profile of the man Lancaster Gate wanted to replace Venables when he left to concentrate on impending legal battles.

Kelly said: "We would hope the ideal candidate will be English and will have played for England. If not, who knows? We will consider all the possibilities."

The remarks seem to make non-runners of the likes of Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal and Alex Ferguson, while making it less likely that the FA would appoint Wilkinson, who by his own admission was a "failed player" with only a handful of games for Sheffield Wednesday.

Kelly's assertion on Monday that the FA was anxious to ensure "continuity" suggests that Bryan Robson, for all his reticence, may have an ongoing role. Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Jimmy Armfield, the broadcaster and former England full-back, will sound out opinion in the game, as he did prior to Venables' appointment in 1994.

Armfield's first public utterance on the matter - "A lot can happen between now and July" - was seen as reflecting the view that Venables might yet be persuaded to carry on. Later, however, he hinted that those who were currently coy about their interest should not be ruled out.

"Because we're in mid-season, managers can't turn around and tell their chairmen, 'I'd like to go'," Armfield said. "I think the situation will change with quite a few people as we go along."