Watching Kevin Keegan’s heroic visage on the Newcastle bench one could almost see him wear a bandanna, a muscle T shirt, cradling an Uzi in his arm getting ready for his Rambo remake as We will Rock You blares on the PA system. He is an inspirational figure. All square jaw. In a world of controlled messages, he is a throwback.
It was as if Keegan and Newcastle had spent a decade in the wilderness after parting company. Stints at Fulham and Manchester City, lifting them to the next level and initially promising, faded away. As England manager Keegan had the worst winning percentage. Newcastle briefly resuscitated themselves under Bobby Robson and then went through a number of managers. In psychiatric terms this is the equivalent of a fugue where a person wanders away from home only to return months or years later not knowing where he went or what he did in the intervening period of time. An amnesia rooted in a severe collective neurosis.
So is Keegan’s appointment rooted in any realistic expectations or is this another Newcastle exercise in thumb sucking. For Newcastle’s new generation of players it must be a bewildering experience having Toon fans ooze out the amount of pheromones for one manager. Keegan had the likes of Andy Cole, Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, Les Ferdinand, David Ginola at their attacking and attractive best and on his watch Newcastle humiliated Man Utd in one of their worst defeats. Such memories are powerful and hard to let go in a club desperate for success. The Geordie Messiah and Newcastle were known for their entertaining soccer. Michael Winterbottom could have very well made a movie on Newcastle soccer with Steve Coogan as Keegan and the Toon fans filling up St James Park as their rave scene.
But if fans were looking for memories to ignite their season they had to be disappointed in the match against Bolton. It’s a different decade, the game is faster, and defence wins matches. Keegan would love to attack and allow Newcastle creative license. Playing full throttle is his style. But he does not have all the pieces. He has some players to work with but others are a huge question mark. Charles N' Zogbia has great talent, Milner has his moments, Martins can be a game changer, Emre is creative but disappears under duress, Owens is a shadow, Ameobi, Duff and Viduka are prone to injuries. Newcastle is an amorphous configuration of re-jiggered players, a collection of players of unfulfilled promise and constant injuries. In short, Keegan has a monumental task in front of him.
Allardyce wanted to make Newcastle into a fortress and shift the responsibility to the other team to breach them. It proved to be an effective philosophy at Bolton. He curtailed the club’s natural attacking ethos. Emre and Martins did not get much face time. Big Sam wanted to plod his way to some semblance of respectability. This did not go down well with the fans. However, Keegan would be naive if he did not take defence seriously and his past record has been one of inspirational leadership both as a player and manager but his tactical skills are suspect. It allows for a fast start but sooner or later the wheels fall off. Losing 12 points and allowing Man Utd to win the Premiership could be called a criminal enterprise but Keegan's aura remained intact. But Newcastle's quandary is that it is now not a club that needs promotion. It aspires to a title and for that the club needs not just an aura, more importantly, they need a nucleus of players who play like a team. Hopefully with Keegan as a Mike Ashley appointment they can afford those players, considering he has already spent a huge chunk of his own change lifting Newcastle out of debt.