Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In limbo

2nd September 2008: just another extraordinary day in the extraordinary history of an extraordinary football club.

So, what do we know (at the time of writing, I should stress…)?

1. King Kev has not been sacked.

2. The club has professed to be keen to retain his services as manager.

3. According to League Managers’ Association chief exec Richard Bevan, he hasn’t resigned either.

But precious little else is certain or even clear.

The first mutterings that all was not well appeared in the Daily Heil. The paper’s claim that crucial meetings between Keegan and the board took place on Monday night were echoed by other usually reliable news sources yesterday. They then reported that the noises coming out of the club suggested a subsequent meeting had resulted in a parting of the ways – something the statement released yesterday evening seemed to contradict, making splendidly euphemistic reference to Keegan having “raised a number of issues” while keeping alive the possibility that these issues might yet be worked through.

The “issues” in question are rumoured to be his dissatisfaction with our dealings in the transfer market – a dissatisfaction that is entirely understandable. I read between the lines of Friday’s statement about the sale of James Milner, feeling Keegan protested too much about it being a decision he had himself sanctioned – it just didn’t ring true. The deal done and the money in the bank, he then set about appeasing the fans, claiming we had no fewer than four signings lined up for what remained of the transfer window. When Mike Ashley and Dennis Wise then managed to deliver only two players – Uruguayan midfielder Ignacio Gonzales and rookie striker Xisco (of whom more later) – it must have been an embarrassment and a source of frustration.

It’s also being reported that much of the disagreement stems from Keegan’s refusal to sanction the inclusion of Joey Barton in a swap deal with Blackburn, which would presumably have seen long-time target Stephen Warnock arrive in exchange. As regular readers will be well aware, I’m certainly no fan of ASBO – I’d gladly see the back of him, and am of the view that Keegan’s faith in him and his rehabilitation is sadly misguided – but if the club hierarchy really are surprised and affronted at Keegan’s stubbornness in the face of their attempts to ride roughshod over his wishes, then there’s a major problem.

As far as Keegan was concerned, the job he took in January was one in which he would be given advice and even recommendations, but that decisions affecting the playing staff would still ultimately be his. Little wonder, then, that he might be unhappy at having some such decisions wrested from his grasp, much like Jose Mourinho, whose departure from Chelsea was the result of the interference of Roman Abramovich and the board (most notably with the purchase of Andrei Shevchenko).

So, if Keegan hasn’t quit or been sacked, then where is he? Has he staged a temporary walk-out? It wouldn’t be the first time he’s protested about a lack of support from the board in that way – remember the aftermath of the Swindon game in 1992. If so, then I’d like to think it’ll be portrayed in the media as a legitimate demonstration of grievance by a passionate man rather than the laughable foot-stomping of a petulant toddler – but I don’t hold out much hope.

In giving the fans what they want and bringing Keegan back to the club, Ashley has in a sense made a rod for his own back. No one of a black and white persuasion had any sympathy for Sam Allardyce when he was dismissed, but if Ashley didn’t know already that sacking Keegan would likely herald his own downfall (not least when results and performances are showing signs of promise), then today’s protests at St James’s Park should have really rammed it home.

If Keegan does stay at the club, it’s going to take more than a bit of Savlon and a few sticking plasters to heal the wounds and set things right – otherwise it’ll only be prolonging the inevitable. At very least, the roles of all parties will need clarifying – ever since the appointments of Wise and Tony Jiminez, there’s been the suspicion that they were all making it up as they went along, with no clear division of responsibilities and duties.

But, amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is certain: since Keegan’s return there has been a positive change at the club – more positivity on the pitch, more positivity in the stands. Positivity is what Keegan radiates – that, enthusiasm and passion. What we need – and want – is someone in the dug-out who actually gives a shit. And that, I hope, is what we’ve still got.


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