The second coming

January 17, 2008
By Chris Murphy

Only in the unhinged world of Newcastle United could a second coming of such seismic proportions occur.

EmpicsNewcastle fans rejoice at the return of Kevin Keegan, 11 years since leaving the club.

The Messiah strolled back through the Gallowgate like he'd never been away, and once again, there was uninhibited rejoicing.

All it took to galvanise a football club, a city and an entire region were two simple words: Kevin Keegan.

Yes, his name had been doing the rounds but few people actually believed King Kevin would clamber out of the footballing wilderness to answer an SOS call from a stricken sporting giant.

The 56-year-old went AWOL for nearly three years, cocooned in Glasgow, rarely heard of, seldom mentioned, yet with one announcement he was the name on every football fans lips once more.

It all fits as far as the Geordies are concerned.

Their ailing club is adrift, rudderless. So who better to inject the feel good factor than the little fella who did it last time round?

Even his mere presence at St James' Park managed to inspire a more expansive attacking game in the black-and-whites and resulted in four goals, albeit against Stoke City.

With all due respect to Nigel Pearson (who makes even Glenn Roeder look positively dynamic) those players had already been infected by the fervour that the KK 'circus' inspires not the caretaker boss.

He's already done it twice on Tyneside, first as a player then as a manager.

Keegan first stunned the region when he dropped down to the old Division Two to sign for United in 1982, winning promotion the following year in a side that featured a young Peter Beardsley and an even younger Chris Waddle, before retiring from the game having scored 48 goals in 78 games.

Just over eight years later with the club languishing at the foot of the Second Division Keegan returned to invigorate a flagging club once more, steering them away from relegation then into the Premier League as Champions the next season.

Then the good times really started to roll as Keegan's newly dubbed Toon Army adopted a brand of swashbuckling football the top flight had never seen before, their cavalier style seeing them hailed as 'The Entertainers'.

They finished third in that first season and Cole scored 41 goals.

It was in the 1995-96 season Newcastle streaked 12 points clear at the top of league by Christmas but Manchester United slowly chipped away at that lead and the cracks began to show.

Under the most intense of pressure, Keegan famously cracked, decrying Alex Ferguson's mind games in THAT TV rant. I would 'love it if we beat them,' he bawled.

The Gerodies were pipped at the post and Keegan never recovered.

His resignation stunned Tyneside in January 1997, amid rumours that the imminent flotation of the club was taking precedence over on field matters.

GettyImagesKevin Keegan and his perm back in 1982

But now he is back once again to do what he does best; inspire. He adds sparkle to even the most average of performers and makes good players great.

Putting incredulity to one side for a moment, this appointment makes perfect sense.

Billionaire Mike Ashley bought Newcastle United to have fun, to be entertained and to be adored by a region desperate to adore.

He wanted an experienced manager, someone who plays attractive, inventive football and also someone who could inspire a beleaguered set of fans.

One only hopes he has made his decision with the following assurances from Keegan.

Firstly, that the man is still in touch with the modern day Premier League, that he knows its players, its tactics and grasps what is required to be successful.

Secondly, that he knows enough about 2008's transfer market to utilise the remaining few weeks to his advantage in adding to his inherited and underperforming squad.

And crucially, that he is in it for the long haul. Should KK walk out if woe and despair return after the inevitable 'Keegan bounce' the club will be left even further adrift than they are now.

As for Keegan himself he must still have a vibrant strand of self-belief coursing through his veins, well aware as he is that Newcastle United is not for the faint hearted.

If he has been keeping one eye on top flight football while at the circus he surely must be confident of at least breaking into the top six.

Keegan will feel confident he can at least match the likes of Aston Villa and Everton, and should he do it by the end of next season all connected to the club can bask in the knowledge his return has been an unqualified success.

But what of the stuttering squad at his disposal?

As ever, Keegan will first look at his attacking options and might find more promise than he'd expected.

He will surely be encouraged by the sight of out and out wingers like Damien Duff and James Milner finding the net against Stoke, not to mention the precocious talent of Charles N'Zogbia who will surely flourish further under such an ebullient boss.

Up top Mark Viduka possesses immaculate touch and artistry reminiscent of the aforementioned Beardsley, the wildly unpredictable Obafemi Martins has raw pace and dynamite in his left boot while Alan Smith embraces the spirit and determination demanded by the Toon Army.

Then, of course, there is a certain Michael Owen.

If Keegan can patch up his differences with Owen, who penned a few far from complimentary lines about his new club manager in his autobiography after a poor Euro 2000 tournament, the 27-year-old will discover with glee a side designed to provide him with a glut of scoring opportunities.

Who Keegan elects to employ alongside him in the dugout will also be intriguing.

Obviously, Terry McDermott will be staying - reprising his long running role as 'morale' coach - but times have changed drastically since Keegan let his players devise their own set-piece strategies and believed a positive training session consisted of hours of intricate five-a-side challenges.

GettyImagesKeegan built a Newcastle side around a free-flowing attacking style. Not defending.

The fundamental problem with Newcastle is the same as it was back in 1992 - the defence - and Keegan will ignore that at his peril.

Yes, he'll be able to conjure an extra 20 per cent in the final third of the field but if his side leak goals as they have done persistently under Allardyce, Roeder and Souness then he'll need to net at least three times to be in with a chance of even a point in most matches.

Should he surround himself with the pragmatic Pearson and perhaps someone like Chris Coleman - a cultured defender in his time - he will be demonstrating his capacity to adapt to fit in with today's tactical requirements too.

But like this article, Keegan's wastes little time on defence, for him it is all about the vim and vigour of forward play.

He is all about dreams; a pied piper-style figure who not only lets you carried away by your fanciful aspirations but one who postively demands you do.

Those outside of Newcastle will laugh at the hysteria created by a club unique for its capacity to bewilder and beguile.

But they haven't had to watch the pitiful performances against Wigan, Derby and Portsmouth this campaign, to name but a few.

And they're not truly entwined with the rollercoaster that epitomises life as a Newcastle United fan.

So if you choose to taunt those fans cruelly if or when this huge punt goes pear-shaped then at least allow them their five minutes of optimism now the Messiah has rekindled their spirit and identity.

Yes it's a romantic appointment, yes it is an almighty gamble, yes it's a soap opera and yes, it is very Newcastle United.

But we love it.


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