Rated just one place below God in city

 

FOOTBALL, of course, always produces its fair share of surprises but the announcement that Kevin Keegan had decided to resign as Newcastle manager will have come as a considerable shock to many followers of the game.

Certainly, as the news spread around the players and coaching staff yesterday there was a great deal of disappointment that he had made the decision to leave although there was clearly a determination too, [that in his absence everybody had to get on with things and stay focused on the games coming up.

What Kevin's decision shows once again is the tremendous amount of pressure that managers at the biggest clubs in the sport are having to cope with these days.

This must have been a terribly difficult decision for Kevin to make. When he came to Newcastle the club was on the verge of relegation to the old third division and he played a central part in reviving the team's fortunes and turning them into one of the most formidable sides in Britain.

Despite last year's disappointments there is a great deal of optimism in the club that we can win a trophy this year. At the moment we are through to the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup, we appear to have a fairly promising route in front of us to the fifth round of the FA Cup while if we win our game in hand we would only be two points off the top of the Premiership table. When you consider that as well as the fact that he clearly had a great love for the club, the city of Newcastle and all of the supporters, you start to get an idea of how great Kevin must have felt the negative aspect, namely the pressure, of the job had become.

For supporters of the club this news will be a terrible blow. Around the city Kevin seemed to be rated just one place below God and the fact that Newcastle is probably the largest city in Britain to have just one major soccer team meant that the goodwill he enjoyed was pretty much universal.

From within the club too, he enjoyed a great deal of backing. He had a wonderful rapport with Sir John Hall, his son Douglas, who tends to be more involved with the day to day running of the club, and United's other major administrative figure Freddie Fletcher. They all recognised the debt the club owed Kevin for his part in its revival over the past few years and they all saw him as the man to bring it through to its next phase.

He was, of course, also very popular among the club's playing staff. Almost all of the players here now were signed by Kevin and a great many of them were swayed towards coming to St James' Park by his presence.

Kevin could very persuasive when he wanted a player to join and I've never seen a better man at dealing with players on a one to one basis after their arrival at a club.

There has been a lot of talk about various players feeling unhappy at being left out of the side at different times, but the reality has been that when somebody was going to sign up the situation was made very clear to him. The aim here was to build up a strong panel within which there would be considerable competition for places.

In this, as in all her things, Kevin was entirely honest with people and his frankness earned him the respect of even those squad members who might have felt they should have been spending more time in the team. In football there is no shortage of people who want to be the bearers of good news but he was a man who could look you in the eye as he told you what you didn't want to hear. He was fundamentally deeply honest and I think everybody appreciated that.

From a personal point of view, I'm deeply disappointed to see Kevin go. I've known him for 12 or 13 years now and we've always gotten on well but since - he asked me to come here as a coach I've also been extremely impressed with the way he has operated. His enthusiasm on the training pitch, where he was at his happiest, was virtually boundless while he was a wonderful motivator. His dedication to playing wonderfully positive football was also impressive.

It is only a few short months since he told me of his ambitions for Newcastle and of how ideally placed to make the big breakthrough the club was at that time. I believed what he said then and I still believe it now, but it is a terrible pity that he will not be around to capitalise on all the good work he has done over the past five years.