“You’re not going to get fit playing football games on your computer,” he said before heading out to RTÉ, “so why not try this, where you’re the star. Can you beat your mate? Can you beat your own score? It’s about football, fun and fitness.”
At 65, the former superstar of England and European football, who went on to became one of the most high-profile managers of the Premier League era, is now himself entitled to a bus pass from Her Majesty, as he cheerfully informed some youngsters from Cabinteely FC who were busy testing their Sokka skills at a Dublin hotel.
Coincidentally, yesterday also happened to mark the 2Oth anniversary of Keegan’s famously eruptive — and much imitated — interview on Sky Sports when, as manager of a Newcastle United side contesting the title with Manchester United, he tremblingly declared live on air how he would “love it if we beat them, love it”.
The view back then was that Keegan had simply imploded in the face of one of Alex Ferguson’s patented mind games, after the United manager had questioned whether other sides would try as hard against the Magpies as they would against the Red Devils. But, all these years on from 1996, Keegan insists that there was a deeper issue at stake.
“It was nothing to do with mind games,” he told me. “It was just that Sir Alex Ferguson, I think, sometimes struggled to give teams credit and always looked for excuses. What he said was wrong, that teams like Leeds wouldn’t try as hard against us as they did against United. And that hit on something deeper: it was almost saying that football’s not straight. And it is. So that was my anger, if you like, at Sir Alex.
“I respect Sir Alex very much for what he’s done. But I think him and Arsene Wenger are the two least favourite managers of mine because they never give anyone else credit. If they lose, the shirt was the wrong colour or it’s the referee. To say, ‘we lost today because they were magnificent’ — I think you’ve got to do that sometimes. Even if you’re a winner and you want to win everything, you’ve still got to give credit where it’s due.” Back in the here and now, three of Keegan’s former clubs have big prizes to play for as the season comes to a head: for Man City, the Champions League; for Liverpool, the Europa League; and for Newcastle, survival in the Premier League.
“City are still in it. Madrid are slight favourites for me because they’re at home and they’ll probably have Ronaldo back. But even if City do get to the final, they’d still come up against either Bayern or Atletico who are a lot more streetwise than City are. That’s the problem. Of the four teams in the semis, City are the least used to that level. I want them to do it but, if I’m honest, I don’t think they will.
“With Liverpool, I thought the Dortmund game was such a throwback. It was the first time in a long, long time that I thought, ‘I’m really enjoying watching Liverpool again’. Under Klopp I think they’ve got a new, positive direction. It suits the players they’ve got and it’s also what the fans want to see.
“And Newcastle? I actually think they will win the last three games but whether nine points is enough to keep them up, I don’t know, because of the games in hand Sunderland and Norwich have.”