Fun times here again as Magpie Messiah is back in Toon

CALL it romantic. Call it foolhardy. Call it the quixotic whim of a billionaire.

But maybe also call it the most daring and potentially brilliant managerial appointment in the history of the Premier League.

Kevin Keegan is back in charge of Newcastle United.

And suddenly a club which was desperate, drowning in the terminal boredom of the football played at St James’ Park under Sam Allardyce, is alive and full of hope.

That is the measure of the man. And he has not picked a single team yet.

That is the measure of the relationship between Keegan and the Toon Army. A relationship beyond respect and admiration. More a mix of passion and obsession which borders on madness.

Perhaps only Bill Shankly and Liverpool’s Kop and Matt Busby in the years of the Babes at Manchester United have enjoyed such footballing reverence as Keegan on Tyneside.

The Geordies see Keegan as their showman, their ringmaster, their ‘Messiah’ which is why the phrase ‘The Second Coming’ was on everyone’s lips. The man instinctively at one with the fans in the stands.

No chance of dull football under Keegan. No chance of packed defences, long balls or tactical paralysis by analysis.

Some may say there is little chance of trophies either.

And they may be right. He did not win a single trophy the last time he ruled on the Tyne. He never reached a cup final.

But he did bring football everyone, not just the Geordie faithful, wanted to watch. He was not shy to bring in luxury players such as David Ginola, neither was he afraid to sell an iconic striker such as Andrew Cole.

In short, he did the job his way and the supporters were swept along with him because he thrilled their footballing souls.

Remember the five goals they put past Manchester United and the 12 points by which they once led the Premier League. Remember, too, the 4-3 defeats seemingly every time they played Liverpool.

Only Newcastle, only Keegan, could cite such a result with chest-thumping pride as if it was somehow a piece of silverware.

And that is what Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, stung as Harry Redknapp declined the job at the weekend, has bought into. Guaranteed entertainment. Guaranteed drama.

Mark Hughes would not have provided that. Neither would Didier Deschamps or Gerard Houllier or any of those tipped to take what has been labelled an “impossible job”.

They might have brought efficiency and organisation and more points, but the chances are they would not have traded in excitement.

I admit here to having some doubts about Keegan.

It is rarely sound practice to return to former stomping grounds. The cocktail is never quite the same. The tendency is to try to recreate what went before when the ingredients are seldom similar.

Keegan, too, is 11 years older. His confidence took a fearful beating following his failure with England and the zest and enthusiasm appeared to desert him altogether during his three years with Manchester City.

He appeared to be done with football.

But, do you know, romantic folly or not, it might just work. And I hope it does for two reasons.

For one, because it is a courageous decision by Ashley who has listened to the fans and is now likely to back Keegan with real hard cash in the knowledge that he must surf the wave of optimism.

Mostly, however, because in a football world obsessed with profit and winning at all cost, Keegan represents a return to more pleasing values.

He represents the heady gamble of a billionaire who did not follow his gut instinct to bring in his own man when he bought Newcastle and backed a manager appointed by the former chairman.

In Keegan, Ashley has delivered the people’s choice. He has proclaimed to the Premier League that Newcastle are going to ‘Have a go’. They are going to challenge the philosophy that says winning is the only thing.

Win or lose, they are going to have a ball.

More in this section

Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Home Delivery
logo-ie

HOME DELIVERY SERVICE

Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox