Belfast Telegraph

Kevin Keegan hangs by a thread as Newcastle deny 'sack' story

Geordie folk-hero Kevin Keegan
Geordie folk-hero Kevin Keegan

Kevin Keegan's status as manager of Newcastle United was uncertain last night after a typically turbulent day on Tyneside saw him move towards the exit door at St James' Park, only then, apparently, to be pulled back.

After 24 hours of intense speculation that Keegan was departing just over seven months into his three-and-a-half-year contract, Newcastle released a statement at 7pm that emphasised their desire to keep him in his position.

After it became known that Keegan and the Newcastle hierarchy had held heated talks over a disappointing end to the transfer window on Monday, and that it could be enough for Keegan to leave in frustration, the club said: "Newcastle United can confirm that meetings between members of the board and manager Kevin Keegan were held both yesterday and today. Kevin has raised a number of issues and those have been discussed with him.

"The club wants to keep progressing with its long-term strategy and would like to stress that Kevin is extremely important, both now and in the future.

"Newcastle United values the effort and commitment shown by Kevin since his return to St James' Park and wants him to continue to play an instrumental role as manager of the club. For the avoidance of doubt the club has not sacked Kevin Keegan as manager."

No one at Newcastle would clarify what that meant for Keegan and the club face internal and external dissent if he has been left with no choice but to walk out.

Newcastle players and fans were dismayed by developments. More than one senior Newcastle player described the anticipated loss of Keegan as "a shambles", while supporters are considering boycotting the next home game, against Hull City on Saturday week. At the bookmakers there was a rush of money for Gustavo Poyet as a possible successor. Poyet was once the team-mate of the club's executive football director, Dennis Wise, at Chelsea and his assistant when Wise was manager of Swindon Town and Leeds. Poyet is currently Juande Ramos's assistant at Tottenham.

St James', usually known for its volume, was silent until late yesterday with no official comment until hours after speculation began regarding Keegan's future. His failure to turn up for training yesterday morning was the starting point, though Keegan's absence was also noted on Monday night when he missed Newcastle reserves' home game against Sunderland.

It was understood Keegan was not present due to an earlier confrontation with the new Newcastle chairman, Derek Llambias, over the club's transfer policy. Last Friday Keegan had asked to be judged "at midnight on Monday" after Newcastle had controversially sold James Milner to Aston Villa three days after the manager had called that scenario "unthinkable".

Keegan had hoped Newcastle would be able to recruit "three or four" new players over the weekend to dispel some of the anxiety about the sale of Milner, albeit for a good price of £10m.

One of these, Keegan hoped, would be the Germany international Bastian Schweinsteiger. The midfielder from Bayern Munich was said to be available and, while not a like-for-like replacement for Milner, Schweinsteiger would fit Keegan's remark that Newcastle would "maybe slightly go in a different direction."

The failure to complete that transaction cannot have pleased Keegan. Also, on Sunday and Monday he discovered that Newcastle were prepared to sell Joey Barton and Michael Owen.

Keegan has staked a lot of his reputation in backing Barton following his release from prison this summer and to have him sold for the £4m asking price to Portsmouth, Everton or Blackburn would have contrasted sharply with Keegan's aim of rehabilitation on Tyneside. Once again, Keegan would have been forced to explain publicly why a player he had supported was then sold.

On Owen, Keegan has been resolutely behind the England striker since April, when the issue of a contract extension for the 28-year-old was first raised. Keegan has made repeated calls for Owen's future to be settled quickly, the fear being that the striker will be free to talk to other clubs in January and move for nothing next summer.

Keegan's demands have not been met by swift action. Clumsily, reacting to reports in the early editions of Sunday newspapers about Owen's possible sale, Newcastle decided to release a statement about the new contract they have at last offered Owen. The tactic has not impressed the player or his advisers and the knowledge of that may have spurred on Newcastle to try to sell him on Monday. Everton were one of the clubs linked to Owen.

As the transfer deadline came and went, Newcastle brought in only two players, one of whom, Ignacio Gonzalez, is on a season-long loan. Xisco from Deportivo La Coruña is a striker who has cost an initial £5.7m, which may rise to £7.7m. But as Keegan might have pointed out to Wise, and others within owner Mike Ashley's hierarchy, Newcastle already have Owen, Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and Shola Ameobi to play up front. What they do not have is an abundance of pace and creativity in midfield.

The fact that Keegan is unlikely to have seen either Xisco or Gonzalez in the flesh is another consideration, a reminder to the vastly experienced manager that he is not in control of who plays for his team.

Belfast Telegraph


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