With the issue of a share prospectus imminent, Newcastle needed to replace Keegan with a proven winner

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The Independent Online
Almost lost in the clamour of Kenny Dalglish's appointment to succeed Kevin Keegan as the Newcastle manager were the somewhat vague, unsolicited explanations he gave for walking away from Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers.

Not much was made of this across the airwaves and in newspapers, but you could not help suspecting that references to "disasters" (Heysel and Hillsborough) and a matter concerning Ray Harford that could not be made public had a great deal to do with Newcastle's proposed share flotation.

In common with the majority of sports journalists, I would not know one end of a balance sheet from another and the FT Index is an abiding mystery. However, it does not take a mind for these things to understand why Dalglish chose to speak more specifically than before about past experiences.

What we are talking about here is the modern phenomenon of stock-market confidence in football. Keegan's departure, precipitated by the need to declare his disenchantment to potential investors, made Newcastle exceedingly nervous. With the issue of a share prospectus imminent, they needed to replace Keegan with a proven winner.

Leaving aside quite ridiculous romantic notions, a good question, you may think, is why did Newcastle first approach Bobby Robson, who will soon be eligible for a bus pass and discounted travel on the railways? The answer, we can be sure, is that on the strength of his achievements, both at home and abroad in club football, and as a former England manager who reached the World Cup semi-finals, Robson represented market stability.

Incidentally, towards the end of last week, and I know this to be true, some bets were struck in the confident belief that a proposal had been put to Peter Beardsley. Whether this was the case or it was subsequently withdrawn is not known, but the odds against him shortened considerably.

So to Dalglish, who did not come fully into the reckoning until he met with Newcastle's officials on Monday. The obvious mark against him, one that surely disturbed the underwriting institutions, was that he had walked out on previous employers. When I put this to someone well versed in such things, he said: "If it was me I would want some plausible reasons. I'm not sure that Dalglish has gone far enough in explaining himself. He had to say something, but I'm surprised that nobody took him and Sir John Hall up on it or that the City will be entirely satisfied."

I have found the Newcastle/Keegan saga disturbing. The impression last week was that we were involved with a national disaster, not merely the departure of a disillusioned football manager. A passion for the game is all well and good, but surely not at the expense of all other issues.

Football may have blinded past working-class generations to the insidious advance of social injustice, but in the main it remained a diversion from the realities of life. Now, instead of being a magnificent irrelevance, as Hugh McIlvanney once referred to sport generally, it has become, worringly to my mind, an obsession.

On the way to a match last Saturday, I heard a mournful report from the streets of Newcastle accompanied by a cornet player's lament. It was as though news had been received of Keegan's death. On television the faces were those of anxious relatives gathered at a pit disaster or some other terrible calamity. Even allowing for football's special place in the region's history and the optimism raised by Keegan's inspiration, should a game mean so much? I don't think so.

According to a report on these pages yesterday, the Fifa president, Joao Havelange, has come around to acknowledging that there is too much professional football being played in the world. "Everyone, players, directors, doctors, coaching staff, wants to make money and for that to happen, they have to play," he said. Fifa, he added, remains powerless to do anything about this.

Everywhere the smell of money. Too many matches, too much football on television, too much trivia. Escalating transfer fees, salaries out of all proportion to ability. The City taking over.

As for Dalglish, when offered a return to management earlier this season, he claimed to be interested only in a well-paid job on the periphery of the game. Now look what he has got himself into.

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