Leazes1986 Posted April 6, 2007 Share Posted April 6, 2007 There are only seven men on the planet who know what it feels like to be England's full-time football manager on the eve of a crucial qualifying match with the boots of the media on their windpipes, and one of them is the beleaguered incumbent, Steve McClaren. Another is the familiar, barrel-chested man before me, who lives near Glasgow now, and cheerfully admits to watching England games and English football hardly at all. "I can't have watched more than two games in the last World Cup," he says. We'll come later to the reasons for Kevin Keegan's move to Scotland, but first let's talk England. His record after seven games in charge was about the same as McClaren's at the same stage, unimpressive, not that there is the slightest chance of McClaren ever resigning as Keegan did, confessing that he simply isn't up to the job. Whether or not his fellow-Yorkshireman is likely to prove better equipped and more durable than he was, Keegan is not saying. He does assert, however, that his immediate successor Sven Goran Eriksson was unfairly maligned. "I think he did quite a good job. It's perceived otherwise, but he had quite a good ratio of winning games. What is a good job, anyway, in the view of the media? Winning the World Cup?" Keegan gives a sardonic little chuckle, even though sardonic is not really his style. He is a manifestly decent and engaging man, although he does not pass up many opportunities to knock the media, and perhaps he is entitled, for it seems rather unfair that the emotional honesty with which he operated throughout his long football career should have been used by some journalists as a stick with which to beat him: his very public abdication as England manager, and his "I'd love it" rant about Sir Alex Ferguson are merely the two best-remembered examples. That said, I am unwilling to let the profound disappointment of Eriksson's tenure be glossed over as "quite a good job", so I appeal to Keegan's self-esteem. Does he think, had he stuck at it, that he could have done no worse than steer England to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, and possibly rather better? "I've never thought about it all. The job wasn't enjoyable any more, and I knew it wasn't for me the minute I didn't get a buzz about turning up at Burnham Beeches or wherever. I didn't feel like I was taking us anywhere, so I resigned. I could have gone to Finland [after the 1-0 defeat by Germany at Wembley, pictured below], drawn 0-0, got the sack and taken home two million quid, but I didn't want to do that. The job just wasn't for me. I found it soulless and Steve McClaren will have the same problem. "Also, I remember sitting with [the France manager] Aimé Jacquet at Highbury once. Chelsea were playing Arsenal, but he had nine players on the pitch and bench, and I had one. I thought 'wow'. This was an English Premiership match. And it wasn't as though I could go to Paris St-Germain v Monaco. "There wouldn't be an Englishman in sight there, either. That underlines how difficult the job is. I had to keep finding matches to watch to feel as though I was doing my job properly, but I didn't need to watch Steven Gerrard to know that he was a very good player and that I was going to play him in the next England team." A rueful smile flits across Keegan's face. "When I played in Germany [for Hamburg] between 1977 and 1980, each team was only allowed two foreign players, maximum, so they had to be top-notch. But then the EC rules changed, which might be fantastic in life, but they hit football badly." Does he agree with me, then, that international football should be considered the purest form of the game? After all, here are teams assembled according to the coincidence of birth, not the power of money. "Yeah, it should be the be all and end all, but it's not. You hear journalists saying 'it's a big week this week, it's the Champions League'. "They're the big weeks of the year. As for international football being pure, even at that level it's still all about money. Why are there so many meaningless friendlies? Because they've got 18 chances a year to sell out at Wembley or Old Trafford. That idea about taking England matches around the country suddenly stopped as soon as Old Trafford got 70,000 seats, because it's 18 times £5m or whatever of TV money and sponsorship." This, I venture, sounds awfully like disillusion from a man once practically synonymous with enthusiasm, who scarcely two years ago was leaping about in the Manchester City dug-out. "No, I just see football for what it is, which is all about money. I find it incredible that a doctor can train for eight years to earn in a year half of what a footballer earns in a week. And the more they earn, the more remote they get. "I didn't close football clubs, I opened them up. These days, training grounds are like prison camps. At Man City I let the fans in to watch. They're the fans, they have the right. At the stadium, the players rush straight in from the bus and when they come out they're straight back on. That's wrong. Supporters should have the chance to get an autograph, and when they've travelled two or three hours and seen you play badly they should have the right to have a go at you, too." He takes a sip of coffee, not that he needs the caffeine hit to fuel his indignation. "Only two Premiership teams, Manchester United and Chelsea, can win the title next year, let alone this year. I took Newcastle up [to the Premier League, in 1993] and we played our way to third, second and second. "That will never happen again in your lifetime. Clubs bring on good young players, then the big clubs buy them and knock your house back down again. "Reading will lose their best player at the end of this season if [steve] Sidwell doesn't sign. And Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was an outstanding player for City, hardly plays a game now at Chelsea. With their new investment, Liverpool will cement their place in the top four and make it even harder for other clubs to break into the so-called elite. Only Everton have got into the top four in the past four years. It's out of reach for almost everyone [except United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool]." A sigh. "I think that's a pity." It is time to change the subject to one much closer to Keegan's heart. We are sitting in the cafe at Soccer Circus, a vast aircraft hangar of a building abutting a shopping mall near Glasgow Airport. It houses a series of interactive football games costing £1m each to build and all conceived by Keegan himself. All his old ebullience returns as he shows me one of them. A team of dummies rise from the floor, and the object is to kick footballs at them: when they are hit they sink back into the floor. It's like a football version of tenpin bowling, although that hardly does it justice. There is simulated crowd noise to give it the feel of a proper stadium, and scores are recorded so that any old birthday party of kids can measure themselves against the likes of Dundee United, or Celtic's youth team, who've all visited. My sons, aged 11 and eight, would love it, love it. Keegan has a go himself, and unerringly hits every target. "Still got it," he mutters. The concept started evolving in his mind 23 years ago, around the time he hung up his boots after a glittering playing career with Liverpool, Hamburg, Southampton, Newcastle and England. "For the last 10 years I've been putting my earnings to one side, paying people to work full time on research and development. It's a way of improving kids' football skills, but it's fun. I don't see why football practice should be all about wet fields and dark nights and poor facilities." Once the project was ready to become commercial and he had left City, by mutual consent, Keegan started looking for a venue. The space had to be right, with good transport links and a large football-loving constituency within easy reach. A possible site in Manchester was rejected, but Glasgow ticked all the boxes. Keegan is there every day, putting groups of wide-eyed kids through their paces, or at any rate some wide-eyed dads. "It's not like I'm Kenny Dalglish up here," he says. "The kids don't know me. The dads say 'you know that Ronaldinho shirt you've got, son? Well this man...' And I say 'don't go there, it won't mean anything'." Soccer Circus opened on 29 September last year. "And I promised to spend every day here until 29 September this year. I've missed my birthday, Christmas Day, and the day my wife unfortunately broke her ankle, so I've reneged on the agreement a bit. But I feel I've got to be here every day. Anyone in business, with their own money tied up, will understand that." Keegan has sunk millions of his own fortune into the project - "almost everything we've got, me and my family" - and is now looking to expand both elsewhere in Britain and around the world by selling franchises. I have a feeling that he will make a small fortune very much bigger, and a long-ago comment by Jack Charlton comes to mind: "If Kevin Keegan fell into the Tyne he'd come up with a salmon in his mouth." Maybe. But he would fall into the Tyne more often than anyone else, with his mouth wider than anyone else, to maximise his chances. Once he has rolled out a few more Soccer Circuses, though, might he not be lured back to management? In the two years since he left City there have been plenty of rumours concerning his imminent return to the dug-out. And he must know that if Glenn Roeder were to leave St James's Park, he would get a messiah's welcome from the Gallowgate End. "I don't think so. I never saw myself managing in the first place. I never applied for a job, and that includes the England job. And Hearts, Newcastle, even Doncaster Rovers, have only been mentioned because the press have mentioned them. None of those stories had anything to do with reality. But that's the way the media work. Let's just write it, and we'd better not check it up because that might kill a good story." Another fiction, he suggests, is that the Newcastle team with whom he almost won the Premiership a decade ago was inept at the back. I can't argue, although the thought occurs that if his players had been as defensive as he still is, they wouldn't have been nearly as much fun to watch. "Do you realise that we had the second-best defensive record in the League? People still say to me, 'you got beat 4-3 five or six times'. I say 'no, twice'. It's funny. I was European Footballer of the Year twice, record transfer, players' player of the year, top scorer at clubs, England captain, but the one thing people talk to me about is that Newcastle team. Even up here they say they used to go down to see us play, because they knew they'd see a good game." The same, alas, did not apply to England under Keegan. And yet I feel almost nostalgic about his brief tenure: here, at least, was a man fully aware of his own limitations. The suspicion is that McClaren is not. Who, I ask Keegan, was the best England manager he served? "Well, I played under Alf [sir Alf Ramsey]. And I liked Don Revie very much. He was honest with me, and I liked him more the older he got. I was with him almost to the day he died. He moved to Marbella when I was there. But the media clobbered him. That's the rule. Everyone gets clobbered in the end. Ron Greenwood was a lovely man, but they got him, too. You know, I caught Jimmy Hill's show the other day, and there was a journalist on there with almost hatred of McClaren in his voice." Keegan laughs, but humourlessly. "That wasn't for me," he says. The Keegan file: Playing and managerial career Joseph Kevin Keegan Date of birth 14 February 1951 Place of birth Doncaster Playing Career Scunthorpe United (1968-1971), 120 games (18 goals) Liverpool (1971-77), 230 (68) Hamburg (1977-80), 90 (32) Southampton(1980-82), 68 (37) Newcastle(1982-84), 78 (48) Club Trophies European Cup 1977 Uefa Cup 1973, 1976 League Championships 1972-73, 1975-76, 1976-77 FA Cup 1974 Bundesliga 1978-79 Individual Honours British transfer record Cost Hamburg £500,000 in 1977 Football Writers' Player of the Year 1976 PFA Player of the Year 1982 European Footballer of the Year 1978, 1979 England captain 1976-1982 International Debut 1-0 v Wales (Ninian Park, Nov 1972) Caps 63 Goals 21 Managerial Career Newcastle United Feb 1992-Jan '97 (251 games 138 wins) Fulham May 1998-May '99 (61 games 38 wins) England May 1999-Oct 2000 (18 games 7 wins) Manchester City May 2001-Mar '05 (176 games 77 wins) Promotions and Premiership Promoted to the Premiership 1992-93, 1998-99, 2001-02 Premiership runners-up 1995-96 Sorry if its been posted. 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