Ashley fails to persuade Keegan to return to Newcastle
One of the most extraordinary and unforeseen reconciliations fell just short last night when Kevin Keegan and the Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley failed to reach agreement on a compromise that would see Keegan return to St James' Park as manager less than a fortnight after Keegan tendered his resignation feeling that he had effectively been forced out by the influential and dividing presence of Dennis Wise as head of recruitment.
Bearing in mind the events of yesterday, which were remarkable even by Newcastle's lavish standards, who can predict confidently what today will bring, but it appears that the only way Keegan will be in the home dugout at St James' again is if Ashley sells the club.
One irony of last night and the past fortnight is that it would be much easier to do so with Keegan in charge and the team playing well. Yet before news broke of Keegan and Ashley's meeting in London, from India a spokesman for billionaire Anil Ambani said that Ambani was "no longer interested" in purchasing Newcastle. He threw a question mark against Ashley's negotiating tactics.
Several hours later the League Managers' Association released a statement shortly after 10pm that confirmed Keegan and Ashley had had discussions but that there was no "satisfactory conclusion".
The statement referred to "several issues" that remain outstanding and these centre on recruitment and staff. The influence of Wise, his assistant Tony Jimenez and managing director Derek Llambias were always going to be potential stumbling blocks as to get Keegan back inside the building Ashley would have to go against the men he backed only a week ago.
Ashley and his hierarchy now have to decide if they are to attend today's home game against Hull City. If they do they will be met with vociferous protest; if they do not then it signals that they are not comfortable being at the club Ashley has spent £250m on in the past 16 months.
That is not a clever position to be in, but it is one of the club's making. Keegan is nothing like as short of money as is rumoured endlessly within football and he called Ashley's bluff when he walked out – though perhaps notably in his resignation statement Keegan mentioned "the directors" not the owner.
Llambias and Wise are said to have reacted angrily to that and to Keegan adding: "It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want."
Newcastle instantly put out a statement of their own attempting to counter Keegan and it was mooted that Newcastle would pursue Keegan legally given Keegan signed a contract in January on his return that stated he would owe the club £2m if he resigned.
Keegan is understood to have engaged the services of Michael Kennedy to represent him following his departure from St. James'. Kennedy, based in London, is vastly experienced in professional football having handled a series of players dating back two decades and featuring Sunderland's manager and chairman Roy Keane and Niall Quinn.
Kennedy would have had the gratitude of Newcastle fans if he had somehow put the splinters of last week's explosion at St. James' back into some kind of recognisable scheme this morning. And on a day when Keane publicly supported Keegan and offered some sympathy with Newcastle fans and their "passion", Kennedy came close.
Now it may return to a conversation/argument about compensation and supporters who had their hopes lifted last night could well be more hostile than ever. Already it was being said by some to have been a stunt by Ashley to try to quell some of the anger that is likely to be seen on Tyneside this afternoon.
Protest marches in support of Keegan are in tandem with an economic boycott designed to hurt the club under its present ownership. Newcastle fans' economic power must frighten the owners because if they withdraw their money then Newcastle will wither. Ashley is not at the club to bankroll it, he wants it to justify itself financially. He needs supporters behind the club, not charged against it.
Having sparked a campaign entitled "No More Geordie Cash For Ashley", the owner has to do something now to explain what he sees has happened and how the club goes forward from here under him. Ashley has been made aware that he is no longer welcome in the away end at matches. Communication is not his forte.
For Keegan, at 57, it may be a last chance gone. Ridiculed in certain quarters, including from within St. James' last weekend, Keegan will continue to matter hugely on Tyneside. As Keane said yesterday: "The game is a lesser game without Kevin Keegan."
Wor Kev: Keegan's life and times with Newcastle
*1982-84: Newcastle manager Arthur Cox pulls off a major coup in persuading Keegan to join Second Division Newcastle. The striker scores on his debut, hits four in a 5-1 demolition of Rotherham and in his second season at the club inspires Newcastle to promotion.
*1992-97: Newcastle were plummeting toward the Third Division when Keegan arrived and turned the club around. Blew a 12-point lead in the Premiership in 1996. Just over six months later he walks out.
*2008: His second coming as a manager in January soon turns sour and he leaves on 4 September.