Keegan's departure symbolic of club out of touch with its fans
The Newcastle board's decision to appoint Kevin Keegan was a disaster waiting to happen and now the true extent of the damage has come to light, writes Sam Wallace
Published 03/09/2008 | 09:49
It had the makings of a disaster from the start, but Kevin Keegan's return to Newcastle United in January was always supposed to be a disaster of his own creation.
The man who said he had barely watched a football match for two years, a tactical dinosaur from the last decade. Instead, Keegan discovered that this time the havoc was to be wreaked by those above him and, this morning, he has the figurative knife in the back as a souvenir.
Betrayed, undermined, humiliated and tossed aside. Keegan's treatment at the hands of Mike Ashley's Newcastle regime has been worse than even that meted out to his predecessor, Sam Allardyce. His players have been sold out from underneath him, transfer dealings have been handled from London and handled with such incompetence that on transfer deadline day the club were bounced into signing an unknown Uruguayan, Ignacio Gonzalez, who only played two league games for Monaco last season. However bizarre Keegan's return to Newcastle was eight months ago, the manner of his second exit just feels sinister, cynical and symbolic of a club completely out of touch with their supporters.
If Keegan was not the right choice for Newcastle then why bring him back? Whatever you consider the merits of the man he had a connection with the Newcastle support that transcends even the usual cynicism of the average football fan. It is a rare devotion that has to be witnessed in person in a full St James' Park to be truly understood. It may be built on sentimentality and the fading memories of a beguiling, if chaotic, failed attempt to win the League 12 years ago. It may be built upon the memory of Keegan as a player at the club 24 years hence. But it is genuine, and the unpalatable truths that the board have forced Keegan to serve up over the last few months have placed that special bond with the Newcastle public under threat.
He has been forced into the role of a placeman for a discredited regime. It has been Keegan who has had to front up when James Milner was sold, when attempts to sign Jonathan Woodgate, Luka Modric and Peter Crouch failed on the unwillingness of executive director Dennis Wise to pay competitive salaries. It was Keegan who was forced to explain why Michael Owen's future at the club was in doubt. His credibility with the Newcastle support, hard-won, laid-down over years was in danger. That is why it is better that he goes before it is exhausted.
Why did it take so long before the relationship reached breaking point? Perhaps, like the rest of us, because Keegan has a mortgage and bills to pay. He has a sizeable stake in the Soccer Circus attraction in Glasgow which always struck you as a quaintly outdated enterprise, an enterprise with which only Keegan, with his unquenchable enthusiasm, would have got involved. Perhaps he needed that lucrative job at Newcastle.
A more pertinent question is why the Ashley regime chose to employ a manager who, anyone could have told them, would always be hugely at odds with the way in which they intended to run their business. Ashley wanted his club to be run like Tottenham Hotspur or Seville, preferably with the success of the latter. Both target young players who they believe will rise in value and can be sold for a profit. It is a delicate balancing act, it requires great organisation and a brilliant scouting network. None of which Newcastle's recruitment team, under Wise, have demonstrated that they have at their disposal.
When coupled with a manager who has spent almost three years out the game and does not have much of an idea of the best players in Europe beyond the weekly Champions League highlights package this was always to be a destructive clash of cultures. In the beginning, Keegan wanted to know why the club was not in the market for players such as Ronaldinho and Frank Lampard. If that sounds preposterous, it is no less ridiculous than Wise and vice-president Tony Jimenez failing to land a player of any note this summer. Their last-minute buying was so panicky that is hard to believe they ever saw Gonzalez play before signing him.
A recruitment strategy that is failing. A manager who never believed in it in the first place. How sad that Keegan's relationship with Newcastle had to end like this. To many – those who do not climb the hill to St James' Park every other weekend –he will remain a difficult figure to take seriously, forever jabbing his finger at the screen, the headphones clamped over his ears. To the faithful he is the man who had a lot of affection for a club that has survived on sweet nothing since 1969. "Shankly's love for Liverpool is no greater than my love for Newcastle," Keegan said last season. To some that is good only for a sneer. But he meant it and loving Newcastle has become a lot harder since yesterday.