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Keegan exit turns heat on Ashley

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Phil McNulty | 13:15 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Kevin Keegan has left Newcastle for the final time - plunging the club's fervent following into mourning once more.

If his first departure in January 1997 sent shockwaves reverberating well beyond Tyneside, this latest parting comes with little more than a minor tremor.

The shock comes in the timing, only three games into the new Premier League season and 24 hours after the signing of striker Deportivo La Coruna striker Xisco and Valencia midfield man Ignacio Gonzalez.

But it could be that the arrival of those relatively unsung players was a catalyst for a split that leaves Newcastle owner Mike Ashley in a hugely vulnerable position.

Keegan's passionate and all-consuming personality, plus his perfectly understandable desire to control his own destiny, made him an uncomfortable fit inside Ashley's management structure at Newcastle.

And Ashley's appointment of Dennis Wise as executive director of football was a poor decision on the owner's part.

The first cracks appeared in May when Keegan reacted to defeat against Chelsea by claiming he would not be able to break into the top four, adding for good measure: "Maybe the owner thinks we can bridge that gap - but we can't."

It was a clear sign that Keegan and Ashley had difference expectations. A bad sign so early in his tenure.

And there were constant suggestions eminating from Tyneside that Keegan was not exercising full control over transfers.

These were not the only issues that led to Keegan's second coming at Newcastle degenerating into an unsatisfactory affair.

Michael Owen has failed to sign a new contract, Joey Barton's future has been a matter for debate after he was released from prison and Keegan was clearly reluctant to part with James Milner - even though he insisted it was his decision to sell him to Aston Villa.

Keegan never looked fully at ease with his role at Newcastle, where he was tugged back by his heart-strings in January after insisting he would never return to management after leaving Manchester City.

Kevin Keegan

And the presence of Wise in the background was always a source of suspicion among Newcastle fans, who felt he was driving transfer policy as opposed to Keegan.

If Keegan felt he was being undermined it would have been tough for him to take, especially given that he has a pedigree as player and manager that is light years ahead of anything Wise can rustle up.

Owner Ashley traded on his man of the people reputation - sitting with supporters at matches and even wearing his Newcastle shirt emblazoned with "King Kev 1" at what turned out to be his manager's final game at Arsenal on Saturday.

But he has never shown a sure footballing touch. If you appoint Keegan as manager, you must let him dictate transfer policy and allow him to stand and fall by his own decisions.

Ashley is being hasty in parting with Keegan. If anyone was going to change policy and approach it should have been Ashley as opposed to Keegan.

And where Ashley goes for his next manager will be a measure of whether he is up to the task of controlling the footballing monster that is Newcastle United.

He may even be tempted to hand the controls to Wise, but this is a temptation he should resist. The phrase "lead balloon" springs to mind instantly.

It would be a bad choice from both a footballing and political point of view. He has no Premier League track record as a manager and the mere mention of his name brought jeers from fans gathered outside St James' Park awaiting confirmation of Keegan's exit.

For Newcastle, it is another sorry episode for a club that paints itself as a giant of the game and yet has not won a major trophy since the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.

They are almost terminally unstable, shifting from manager to manager with monotonous regularity, and shipping players in and out in a ludicrous revolving door policy.

At least Keegan would have been given time by Newcastle's fans to try and get the job done, such is their reverence for the former England boss.

Instead he has gone, probably out of football forever, and Newcastle are stranded in familiar crisis territory again.

It is a sorry end for Keegan. Many doubted the wisdom of his decision to return to Newcastle, indeed some might even revel in his downfall.

This would be desperately unfair. He has his failings (don't we all?) but they are far outweighed by his honesty, decency and his desire to play the game in attacking manner.

Keegan has said many times he knows what Newcastle fans want. He has proved it in the past.

He certainly knows more than Mike Ashley and Dennis Wise and it is a genuine shame that he will not be able to give it to them.


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