Friday, October 3, 2008
On that day: Keegan quits England job
"It was 1,000 per cent my decision. Please don't think anyone has put a gun to my head. I have always been a man who knows when the time is right. I don't want to outstay my welcome."
"I have had all the help I have needed to do my job properly but I've not been quite good enough."
With those words, Kevin Keegan had done what some say he does best; walked out when the pressure was on. Tuesday 7 October will mark the 8th anniversary of the most spectacular departure of a footballing life strewn with high-profile walk-outs.
In contrast to the cloak and dagger saga surrounding his recent abdication of the crown at Newcastle, his handing in of his cards as England boss at Wembley in 2000, following a 1-0 defeat to Germany, saw Keegan choose to exit in the most public way possible.
On a rainy night that was the last ever match at the old Wembley, England's defeat was far more comprehensive than the scoreline suggested. Dietmar Hamman's 14th minute free-kick, quickly taken from 30 yards out, had skidded on the sodden surface past David Seaman, who, as on a couple of other famous occasions, was beaten from long-range when he perhaps should have done better.
Keegan's team had been outpassed by a German team far below the standard of previous generations. And, perhaps as a reflection of the pressure mounting on the manager after a chaotically disappointing Euro 2000, Keegan had chose to start with a defensive-looking formation; completely out of character for a man forever associated with gung-ho football.
Seaman's error was forgotten amid the post-match miasma that surrounded Keegan's spectacular climbdown. So too the bizarre decision to field Gareth Southgate, a defender of proven class, as an anchor in midfield, a position Southgate had not played since leaving Crystal Palace in the summer of 1995. And Keegan's reversion to 4-4-2 despite the success gained from fielding a single striker to gain a draw from World and European champions France in Paris a month previously became a footnote.
As so often when Joseph Kevin Keegan is around, one man dominated proceedings. He even managed to overshadow the bringing down of the curtain on 77 years of football at Wembley. Verbally handing in his resignation to FA chief executive Adam Crozier in, of all places, a toilet, Keegan managed to steal the show completely.
In similar style to that in which he arrived back at Newcastle at the beginning of this year, Keegan had ridden in on his white charger to save England eighteen months before. The fall-out from Glenn Hoddle's resignation after a spectacularly ill-advised press interview that had blown up full force in his face had seen FA Technical Director Howard Wilkinson take charge of a single friendly with the French, which was lost in moribund style.
The media clamoured, as ever in those days, for Terry Venables, still remembered as a hero for England's showing at Euro 96. Yet Venables was never in the hunt, the business problems which had led to his departure after the tournament still stuck toxically to his reputation. His disqualification by the high court from acting as a company director for eight years was a further dent to any chance he may have had of returning to the job.
There were few other contenders for the job. Bobby Robson was at PSV and despite clamours for the FA to approach Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson, all eyes had switched to Keegan. After the turmoil of having three managers in five years in the shape of Hoddle, Venables and Graham Taylor, what England needed was a safe pair of hands to guide the tiller. Instead, England got Keegan.
Having quit Newcastle at the beginning of 1997 in typically seismic style, Keegan had retreated to the backwater of Fulham, working for foul-mouth pharoah Mohammed Al-Fayed, first as a "Chief Operating Officer" (Director of Football in new money) and then as team manager, with the Cottagers in line for promotion from the old Division Two.
An initial and largely successful spell came on a temporary basis, before he quit Fulham to join up full-time; a unique situation in Keegan's managerial career in that he left one job to take another rather than stage a walk out. And, after a play-off win over Scotland, he guided England to the Euro 2000 finals. There, his popularity, always important to a fragile if sizeable ego, plummeted after England exited in the first round. In Holland and Belgium that summer only the Germans had put up a more disappointing showing, a fact that many bore in mind as England prepared to face their old rivals on a day wracked in symbolism.
England had been grouped with the Nationalmannschaft in Belgium and a win over Germany had been the sole positive. German coach Erich Ribbeck had paid for his team's exit with his job. Keegan kept his, with the FA possessing scant other options. The Guardian had been soaked in irony when it depicted Keegan with a picture headline asking 'What could possibly go wrong?' Keegan's cult of personality, which had always shielded the truth of his tactical weaknesses, was on the wane and he knew it.
The match-winner in Charleroi had been Alan Shearer but that other great Geordie hero had hung up his international boots. At Wembley Andy Cole, rarely a success for England, played alongside Michael Owen, whose relationship with his national manager had collapsed at Euro 2000. England were toothless, never able to look like grabbing an equaliser. Germany missed several chances in the second half as Keegan made an attempt at an attacking tactical switch to 3-5-2 with Kieron Dyer replacing Gary Neville at half-time.
The bare facts were that England now looked in danger of not qualifying for World Cup 2002, with the automatic first place looking almost impossible. Few could see much hope for England. And Keegan joined the majority in sensing that hopelessness.
Soaked to the skin, a look that perhaps Steve McClaren had in mind when he chose to watch his own England Waterloo under the safety of an umbrella, and with tears welling in his eyes, Keegan told viewers in his post-match interview that: "I really just feel a little bit short of what's required. I probably had a longer run than I could've expected. I just don't feel I can find that little bit of extra that you need at this level to find that winning formula."
Ever honest, ever fragile, Keegan departed the scene. He would do so again, though never quite so publicly. England, with the cupboard of English managers willing and able to do the job now bare, were eventually forced to look further afield. The FA's search eventually found Sven Goran Eriksson to guide England to Japan and Korea. Keegan's lachrymose lavatory departure truly was a watershed day for England's national team.