If the excitement which spreads like wildfire at Tyneside is any indication, Kevin Keegan is still very much a legend in the eyes of the Magpies’ supporters, established by his exploits first as a player in the 1980s and as a manager during his 1992-97 stint. The emotional attachment has immediately translated to improved gate receipts as earlier estimates of a 30,000-gate increased by 5000.
His return - albeit only as a spectator - also galvanized the team and injected confidence as the Magpies registered their biggest home win of the season, a 4-1 win over Stoke City in an FA Cup third round replay.
Newcastle discarded their shackles and impressed the messiah who took his place in the directors’ box flanked by Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, and the club’s chairman, Chris Mort. Delirious Geordies greeted Keegan’s 20th minute arrival with a deafening roar and rapturous applause; as he put it aptly: “I am back home.”
The match started off brightly as Michael Owen recovered his killer instinct to direct a close-range shot beyond Stoke’s goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen, barely eight minutes gone - his first goal since Oct 7th. The mood was dampened when former Inter-Milan star Emre was sent off for a reckless tackle on Eustace.
However, even down to ten men, Newcastle were in swashbuckling form. Within two minutes, they responded with a second goal as Cacapa, headed home from Zogbia’s right wing corner.
After the break, Newcastle continued their rampage. James Milner consolidated their lead with a fine solo effort as he controlled a header from Mark Viduka and fired a right-footed shot from the edge of the City area. Duff added to the final tally with his first goal of the season in the 76th minute.
With numerical advantage, Stoke had their fair chances to win if Jon Parkin had volleyed home into an unguarded goal 10 minutes of the restart. In the 67th-minute, Rory Delap headed Liam Lawrence’s cross wide of Given’s left-hand post. They gained a consolation goal through Lawrence a minute from time. It was a pity for the underdogs who had hoped to deliver a classic FA Cup upset but they were no match against the flowing, attractive football which was served up.
In his first comments since been named as Sam Allardyce’s successor, Keegan expressed confidence of rekindling the lost passion. He said: “I know what the fans want. As long as they are realistic and patient, I think we can try again to help them have dreams and possibly win something.”
Though Keegan is not directly responsible for the victory, but sitting in the stands has got his body pumped full of adrenaline. Can’t really blame him as he has not watched a live Premier League match since quitting Manchester City in 2005.
“I am just as excited this time as I was when I came to play here at 31 and when I came as a manager at 43 or 44,” said Keegan.
“I have certainly inherited a strong, talented group of players - which is something I didn’t have when I came last time. They will be trying to get a stadium big enough if we can put some football on and get some success here. The job in hand is a big job, it is a great club.”
There are speculations that Alan Shearer could be the no.2. Shearer did not see himself as a natural number two, and also revealed that the club were not ready to give him the manager’s job without any prior coaching experience. However, he is willing to listen to any offer from Keegan who signed him for 15 million pounds (a record at that time) when he was the hottest property in English football.
“Kevin is his own man and he’ll make his own decisions,” Shearer said. “It is my club so if he was to ring me up I would certainly speak to him - I would be foolish not to.”
He added: “It remains an ambition of mine to manage one day, when that will be I don’t really know. But the fans have what they want. They want entertainment, they want passion and they want commitment. They haven’t seen that of late.”
“Newcastle is in his heart and he wants to do so well for them. He failed to win a trophy there when he was manager last time but you can bet your bottom dollar that he will give it a right good go this time around.”
Actually, Keegan was not the first choice for the Newcastle board. After failed attempts to secure the services of Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp and Gerard Houllier, the former Liverpool boss who is now French football’s technical director, the populist option was adopted by turning instead to King Kev.
All is good but when the excitement died down, it is time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business. Sentimentality and romanticism can only carry Keegan so far, there is every possibility of this return becoming a messy divorce and ending in tears. His former repute will be tarnished too, with Alan Shearer a likely candidate to come in and pick up the pieces.
As a player, Keegan has garnered a haul of medals, worthy of envy from even the most accomplished players. At Liverpool, it is three league titles, an FA Cup, a European Cup and two UEFA Cups. He tried his luck next in Germany with Hamburg in 1977. There he won the Bundesliga and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1978 - Michael Owen is the only Englishman to have scooped the Ballon D’or since.
However, as a manager with stints in Newcastle, Manchester City, Fulham and England, he has won nothing. He is tactically naive (self confessed), has a tendency to implode at the critical juncture, and do not have the temperament to tide through the crisis especially when the fans turn against him.
That is not to say that he is useless either. Having saved Newcastle from relegation to English football’s third tier, he went on to secure promotion to the top flight in 1993 and came close to winning the league title in 1995-96.
That season his Newcastle “entertainers” led Manchester United by 12 points before finishing as runners up - a collapse that inspired his famous “I’d love it if we beat them” outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson.
The first game of Keegan’s second spell will be Saturday’s Premier League clash at home to Bolton. As I love the beautiful game myself, I wish Keegan the best in his endeavor and hopefully, he can win something for Newcastle in the coming seasons.