Toshack waiting in the wings

THE KEEGAN AFFAIR Stan Hey says that one half of a great double act may replace his old partner
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The Independent Online
It is said that all revolutionaries are destined to be consumed by the upheaval they begin, but it will seem particularly ironic to Kevin Keegan if the Newcastle United he has fashioned is handed over to his former Liverpool striking partner John Toshack in the next few days.

This is not to imply that Toshack will be a Stalin to Keegan's Lenin, although there are voices in football who have claimed to have witnessed Toshack's abrasive side, but more that it will prove to be a conclusive case of the tortoise catching up with the hare. For in their Liverpool playing days it was always Keegan setting the pace while Toshack seemed content with his supporting role.

To many at the time it must have looked like the tall, square-shouldered Welshman was a comical decoy for the more athletic Keegan that their little 'n' large partnership became one of the most potent duos in European football during this period.

Indeed such was the understanding they developed - Keegan feeding intuitively off Toshack's headed flicks - that a televised experiment by a local university was conducted to see if the two players shared telepathic powers. The results were inconclusive to say the least. Nevertheless Keegan insisted in his first autobiography that: "Tosh and I got on so well together on the field because we both thought deeply about our game. We knew each other's strengths and weaknesses."

While it is unlikely that Keegan had the time or the inclination to recommend Toshack as his successor, Newcastle's roving selection panel will surely be aware of his high regard for the Welshman's footballing mind. The late Bob Paisley once told me a propos his most famous line "The first five yards is all in the head," that he rated Toshack on a par with Keegan and Kenny Dalglish when it came to mental speed. And like Keegan and Dalglish, Toshack is imbued with Liverpool's teaching values.

Toshack's managerial career has sometimes exemplified this particularly when he dragged Swansea up through three divisions and into the top flight in the early 1980s. But as Swansea suffered the football equivalent of "the bends" caused by their rapid ascent, Toshack's financial and personnel management skills were called into question and the glorious chapter ended with inglorious recriminations.

Since then, apart from his insultingly brief reign as Welsh national coach which lasted only long enough to see Wales lose 3-1 at home to Norway in March 1994, Toshack has deployed his managerial skills across Spain, first with the Basque club Real Sociedad, less successfully with Real Madrid, and now with the present third-placed team Deportivo la Coruna.

Yet this flight to Spain almost certainly stemmed from Liverpool's rejection of him as Paisley's successor in 1983. When Bill Shankly died in 1982, Liverpool's next match just happened to be at home to Swansea. As the players lined up in silent tribute Toshack stripped off his Swansea tracksuit top to reveal his old Liverpool No 10 shirt. While the Kop loved the gesture, the Liverpool board are believed to have disliked such emotional "touting" for the vacancy that everybody knew was coming. Toshack's timing may be better this time round.

For telepathically or otherwise, Keegan's decision to quit Newcastle came only days after Toshack had declared his intention to leave la Coruna. He and the Barcelona manager Bobby Robson, who has apparently turned down the Newcastle job, were slated in the Spanish press after a sterile game between the two clubs with one report calling them "farm hands from the museum of British football".

The Newcastle directors, desperate to appease the men in the grey suits in advance of next week's stock-market flotation will presumably leave that bit out of the share prospectus if they do proceed to appoint Toshack as their new manager. But apart from an obvious ability to communicate with Faustino Asprilla in his native tongue, it is hard to know what else Toshack might bring. European experience certainly and a knowledge of its player market should more spending money be made available, though the fans will hope that he leaves his poetry behind in Spain.

Keegan, who remains a friend, once said that Toshack "can be a strange mixture. Sometimes he thinks he's a better player than he is, and on other occasions he will not give himself enough credit."

Yet it was clear in last Thursday's interview on Radio Five that Toshack's ego would not be daunted by the task ahead of him. In some ways it will seem apt if a club bankrolled by a miner's son, managed by a miner's son and now rejected by a miner's son finally turns to a man hewn in South Wales.

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