Making a bad situation worse

Newcastle are nothing if not consistent; consistently disappointing on the pitch, consistently failing to reward their fans and consistently tripping over themselves in public.

The latest faux pas is a public broadside, launched on their website, aimed at former boss Kevin Keegan.  Keegan maintains that he could not manage while the board continued to interfere in his ability to do his job.  Their statement contradicts this and makes some extraordinary claims.

The statement has been made in a bid to counter allegations made by Keegan via the League Manager’s Association that the club fears “could give rise to a misleading impression amongst the club’s fans”.

Fair enough.  So what are the facts?

It is a fact that Kevin Keegan, on appointment on 16th January 2008, agreed to report to a Director of Football and to the Board.

I’m sure he did.  I don’t think Keegan has disuputed this – it’s the identity, location and conduct of this Director of Football that Keegan (and many of the club’s fans) object to.  Here is Keegan’s statement: “At the time at which I joined Newcastle United Football Club it was made very clear to me that I would have the final say on player movement in and out of the club.”

The League Manager’s Association copper-fastened his complaint: “Kevin Keegan’s chief complaint, amongst others, is that it was always agreed that the director of football could not impose a player that the manager did not want.”

The Newcastle statement at no point contradicted Keegan’s chief complaint.  In fact they circumnavigate the point by saying:

It is a fact that Kevin Keegan, as manager, had specific duties in that he was responsible for the training, coaching, selection and motivation of the Team. It is a fact that Kevin Keegan was allowed to manage his specific duties without any interference from any Board member.

The plot thickens a bit here:

It is a fact that Kevin Keegan agreed only to deal with the media in relation to Club matters relating to the Team and not to communicate with the media in relation to the acquisition or disposal of players.

Maybe Keegan naively agreed to this point even though it seems set up to undermine his position as the chief hirer-and-firer at the club.  However, this could be a reasonable clause in most agreements to protect the manager and the player from any mistimed or misconstrued public statements.

There were some more juicy details released by a “boardroom source” this weekend.

There was not going to be a Chelsea scenario, with Newcastle paying big money and massive wages for established stars. The club was going to be run like Arsenal, and the emphasis would be on scouring the world for the best emerging young talent, like Arsène Wenger has done with Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor. We talked of building the club up over three to five years. Kevin took the job on those terms.

It’s reported by this source that Keegan’s wish list included David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry.  It’s fair to say that this is a fairly unimaginative list, with any football fan able to identify these players as being quite useful – if you have the budget to aquire them.  Newcastle’s budget for the season was £12m and Keegan was aware of this.

On the Milner issue, the truth is that Kevin sat in on a meeting where the sale was discussed.  Kevin reckoned James was worth £7m-£8m, and the plan was to use that cash to buy (Bayern Munich’s Sebastian) Schweinsteiger.  Tony Jimenez (Newcastle’s VP of recruitment) did the negotiations with Villa and managed to agree a fee of £12m.  Everyone thought it was too good to turn down, so the deal was done. Unfortunately, Schweinsteiger then said he wouldn’t come.

Okay, well you can’t beat a manager up because he is not able to predict a transfer negotiation.  But the glaring problem with the above is that Newcastle agreed to Milner’s sale without tying up Schweinsteiger.  Surely that’s the great big elephant in the room that Newcastle don’t even try to deny and, in fact, use it to back up their argument that they did their job properly.  That’s an epic failure.

We have been looking for a centre-half. Kevin’s suggestions were Jonathan Woodgate, Sami Hyypia and Richard Dunne. Where’s the residual value in them?

Good heavens, this is unbelievable.  Okay, so Sami Hyypia might not have been the greatest selection but both Woodgate and Dunne are very good Premier League players who were exactly what Newcastle needed.  But the board’s response (albeit through this “source”) is relating to residual value?  What about trying to build a team that can compete in the short-term?  Even Arsene Wenger had to achieve when he was building his side on the cheap.  Fabricio Coloccini is 26 and cost £10.3m.  He may turn out to be a good buy but Richard Dunne and Jonathan Woodgate (the latter turned down a move to Newcastle) would have cost less and settled in quicker.  I don’t think there was anything more offensive about these suggestions than Coloccini.

There’s blame to be attributed to and spin eminating from both sides.  No one is squeaky-clean in this undignified mess.  But the fans most definitely have cause to be upset with what they are reading and most of them will naturally side with Keegan.  Mike Ashley made a balls of buying the club, did not understand the amount of debt it is in and has realised all too late that owning a football club is not the golden egg it seems to be from the outside.

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