Oh, now this is almost too good to be true. Not the picture, I mean. That makes me feel ever so slightly nauseous. What I’m talking about is, of course, Newcastle United’s amazing decision to take on Kevin Keegan for a second spell as replacement to Sam Allardyce at St James Park. Allardyce should sue for defamation of character, or something. I mean, of all the people that they could have chosen! The only man that could conceivably have provided more guffawing than if Mike Ashley had given the job to Alan Shearer. The man that quit the England job having worked out for himself that he wasn’t up to it. The man whose demented rantings in a post-match interview brought the strangely ungrammatical phrase “I would just love it if…” into the national consciousness. It’s magnificent, magnificent stuff.
So, a quick resume. Keegan, of course, started out as a player at Scunthorpe United, before going to Liverpool in 1971. He was at Anfield for six years, but this was long enough to scoop up more or less every major trophy that and English player could win (the FA Cup in 1974, the League & UEFA Cup in 1976 and the European Cup in 1977) before going to Germany to join SV Hamburg. At Hamburg, he led his new club to its first ever Bundesliga in 1979. He was voted the European Footballer Of The Year in 1978 and 1979. He returned to England in 1980 to the somewhat unlikely destination of Southampton, where he stayed until 1982, when he joined Newcastle United. His final act as a player was leading the club into the First Division in 1984, before retiring. He never really matched his club form for England, and managed just twenty-one goals in sixty-three matches. He was too young in 1973, when England could have done with his assuredness in front of goal against Poland at Wembley in the match that knocked them out, and was injured in the build-up to the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain. He occasionally put in memorable performances (notably in a friendly against Argentina at Wembley in 1980), but never managed to replicate the consistency that he found at club level for his country.
His original appointment at Newcastle in 1992 was as much of a surprise as his recent one was. He had spent much of the previous eight years in Spain playing golf. With Terry McDermott as his assistant, he took Newcastle back into the Premier League in 1993 and established them there before famously losing a twelve point lead (and his mind) in the last few weeks of the 1995/96 season. He offered his resignation in the summer of 1996 only to see it rejected by the Newcastle board – he eventually got his own way in January 1997, quitting with Newcastle in fourth place in the Premier League. His return to football came at the unlikely setting of Craven Cottage the following September where, bankrolled by Mohammed Al-Fayed’s money, he took Fulham into the Premier League for the first time before taking the England job. No matter what anyone says about the current England team, I remain steadfast in my opinion that Keegan’s England team was the worst that I have ever seen. At the finals of Euro 2000, they threw away a two goal lead against Portugal, beat the worst German team since the war and then got knocked out deservedly by Romania. The 1-0 defeat by Germany in the final game at Wembley in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers was about as depressing a spectacle as you could imagine. A dreadful team, losing badly in a dilapidated stadium in the pouring rain. Finally, at Manchester City, he took them into the Premier League, and then to mid-table before “retiring” from football in March 2005.
If Sam Allardyce, using the limited tactical acumen that he built up at Bolton over the last five years or so, was yesterday’s news, then Keegan is something akin to the ghost of Christmas past. Keegan’s teams were occasionally entertaining, but reckless to the point of naivete. The post-match resignation and the infamous fit seem to me have demonstrated that he hasn’t got the temperament for the job and he also has an unerring habit of resigning in mid-season, and often for no particularly good reason. In an interview with the BBC in October last year, he stated that he hadn’t watched a live match since resigning from Manchester City two and a half years ago. Have Newcastle gone and taken on a manager that isn’t even still interested in football any more?
What Newcastle need at the moment is discipline. The likes of Joey Barton need discipline. They need to stop making foolish defensive errors that cost them points. To that end, Mike Ashley has done the rest of the country proud by more or less guaranteeing that Newcastle United FC will remain national laughing stocks for a good while to come. Sacking Sam Allardyce because the most self-righteous and deluded of their supporters have decided that they’re not being “entertained” enough? Bringing in a man that everyone can see is hopelessly ill-equipped for the job as a replacement? Well, that’s two out of three. Go on, Mike. Bring in Shearer as assistant manager. Go for the hat-trick.