Kevin Keegan

Kevin Keegan’s one shining quality, honesty, has been both his making and undoing.

He reached the supposed peak of English football management as result of the respect he engendered in players. Having achieved more than any other English player in the history of the game, including two European footballer of the year awards at a time when all of our exports to the Continent were failing miserably, there was nothing he didn’t know about the pressures and rewards that influenced his charges. He loved the game and he loved the players. And they loved him.

But unfortunately, Keegan’s popularity and experience was not enough. Constant allusions to his tactical naivety were given credence by the poor performance of the England team. After scraping through to Euro 2000, the team was one of the worst in the tournament. The first match of the 2002 World Cup campaign showed that Germany had learned the lesson of their own Euro 2000 debacle and taken steps to regain their former greatness. England had done nothing. The same old faces were wheeled out, given an unfamiliar game-plan, and subjected to embarrassing defeat in what should have been a celebration of the increasingly distant glories witnessed by the condemned Wembley stadium.

And then his untameable honesty kicked in. ‘Kevin Keegan is not up to the job’, he said, referring to himself in the third person in the way that only footballers, Channel 5 ‘celebrities’ and minor royals do. And he left. He left England managerless, four days away from a World Cup game made more crucial by his own failure against Germany. And he seemed to be doing his best to sabotage any future job prospects by talking down his own abilities and leaving his employer in the lurch.

Hello — ?
So what can he possibly do in the future? A move back to management looks very unlikely. Fulham, the team he left to take the England job have gone from strength to strength since he left. They look certainties for the Premiership next season and they won’t be asking Keegan to return, thank you very much. And since he walked away from the top job at Newcastle United, saying that he had done all he could do before they had won a single top-flight trophy, it is unlikely that any other Premiership side will gamble on employing him in the top job. The one thing that seems open to him is a kind of continuation of the job he was doing for England, but without the irksome responsibilities of team selector or tactician. Kevin Keegan should become an unofficial cheerleader for the nation.

Surely his boundless enthusiasm will see him regain his popularity. His determination to look on the bright side – he is the man the expression ‘but, hey’ was invented for – should be used to lift the spirits of the country. It can only be a matter of time before Tony Blair summons him from the golf course and appoints him Under Secretary for Optimism at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

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