Paradise lost as Keegan resigns

 

A FOOTBALL writer with a local Newcastle newspaper captured one of the defining moments of Kevin Keegan's troubled season following last month's defeat by Coventry City at Highfield Road.

Not for the first time, Newcastle United had produced a poor performance that belied their great potential and Keegan, reneging on his reputation as one of sport's more accessible personalities, for once found words beyond him.

Emerging from the dressingroom, he walked directly past a posse of reporters without breaking his silence and hurried furtively into the night.

As is their wont, the newsmen did not give up and after a quick search, eventually found the beleaguered manager sitting alone in the darkened team coach.

"The sight of the most loquacious manager in English football staring blankly into the darkness of his team's coach, should send shivers down the spine of every Newcastle United supporter," the journalist told his readers the following morning.

In the glitzy world of modern football, there is a presumption that high profile players are immune to criticism and insensitive to the emotions of those who help pay their enormous wages at the turnstiles.

How can managers prepared to pay £15 million for a single fallible footballer, identify with the feelings of ordinary mortals who often work economic miracles to fund season tickets at grounds like Old Trafford and St James' Park?

There was an occasion during a Manchester United annual general meeting in the pre Alex Ferguson era, when an irate shareholder questioned the wisdom of some of Ron Atkinson's investments in the transfer market.

"Would you," he inquired of Atkinson, "spend a penny of your own money for every pound of club funds you invest in new players?"

Atkinson did not get the opportunity to respond before he was assailed by a dozen supplementary questions, but the man who raised the matter in the first place may well have been enlightened by developments at St James' Park yesterday.

Discerning critics believe that the eccentricities of his team's performances this season had very little to do with Keegan's resignation. Rather, what persuaded him to go was his failure to repay the massive £6 million investment made by Sir John Hall to bring some of the biggest names in the game to Tyneside over the last five years.

The parallels between this situation and the chain of events which led to Kenny Dalglish's resignation as manager of Blackburn Rovers, in equally dramatic circumstances last season, are interesting, if not wholly convincing.

Unlike the monosyllabic Scot, who made little attempt to disguise the pressures of his calling, Keegan brought to the business of football management the same boyish enthusiasm which had characterised his playing career.

Thanks to television's new and expanding role as the paymaster of big time sport, the rewards of success have never been more alluring. But the price of that funding is proving high as cameras intrude ever more brazenly into the privacy of the dressing room.

That was an imposition which Keegan handled with some sensitivity last season, until that remarkable outburst which took him into open conflict with Alex Ferguson in the closing stages of the championship race.

In the weeks and months preceding it, the Newcastle manager had seen a 12 point lead dissolve, leaving both players and manager broken and frustrated.

There are those who believe that the man who built his reputation, in part, on a facility to respond to all challenges with equanimity, never really recovered from that disappointment. Some say that his love affair with Newcastle had already gone cold within months of the start of the current campaign.

The vivid television images of the manager who so often carried his heart on his sleeve occasionally told a different story, but almost certainly, the break up of one of the more romantic partnerships in British football, will be interpreted by the public at large, as one for regret.

Meanwhile, The Times report today that bankers forced Keegan's resignation to enable the club's £170 million stock market flotation to go ahead smoothly.

They said Natwest Markets, the merchant bank backing the flotation, told the club at a secret meeting on Tuesday that if Keegan really wanted to go, he must go immediately. The bank said the club should not risk his departure while its shares were being marketed on the London stock exchange.