Republican News · Thursday 12 October 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Keegan's candour

There is something disarming about honesty - especially honesty about yourself.

This week, Kevin Keegan disarmed all of his critics. By agreeing with them!

They had used forests of newsprint screaming that he wasn't up to the job of England manger and he said, ``Yeah, you re right.''

With that, he resigned.

He admitted, in a stunning post match interview, that he saw things going wrong in the game and looked at the great players on the bench, each with special abilities and able to bring different things to the complex machine that is a modern soccer team. He admitted to millions of viewers that he looked at the bench and he didn't know what to do. He didn't know - in effect - which player to pull off the park and which one to put on. These are the basics of running a team from the touchline. At that level, Keegan conceded, he wasn't up to it. What, really, can you say after that?

He didn't hide; he didn't blame players for under-performing (though many had).

He didn't blame anyone in the FA hierarchy for not supporting him. He just said: ``Look, Kevin Keegan can't do this job at the level required.''

Well I agree with him - that isn't to stick the boot in, but he is right. He isn't up to the job. Euro 2000 exposed his tactical naïveté.

The zonal 4-4-2 system he utilised against the fluid 4-5-1 of the Portuguese was a disaster waiting to happen. It was the sort of formation that a Portuguese spy in the England dug out would have advocated. It allowed acres of space for Portugal's three attacking midfielders to roam between the midfield four and the back four.

Often, Paul Ince had three Portuguese midfielders running at him, one with the ball, the others dizzyingly close by, awaiting a lightning quick pass. That would be a problem at any level of the game, but when the three are Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Sao Pinto, then it's curtains. As the game slipped away from them, as they lost their hugely fortunate two-goal lead, Keegan was transfixed on the touchline - ``What do I do?'' He didn't know.

The team always had the look of a team that wasn't his. He clearly didn't hold the dressing room. Last Saturday, after the defeat to Germany in the final game at the old Wembley Stadium, he admitted what everyone else knew.

At club level he had always wanted to be the players' pal, their best buddy. Being the players' friend, he couldn't be ruthless when things needed that. He didn't like the stress. Alex Ferguson he isn't.

He spent massively at Newcastle and after 65 million still didn't know what his best lineup was. He stumbled on a stunningly effective lineup at the start of the season where they appeared to be running away with the league - young Keith Gillespie as a winger down the right sending in early balls for big Les Ferdindand, Ginola drifting inside like a Gallic del Piero from the left and little Beardsley playing in the hole behind Ferdinand.

This combination tore defences apart.

Keegan, like a little boy with a shiny new train set, decided to dismantle it. He bought Faustino Asprilla from Parma and had to find a place for him.

He ignored the lesson that if it isn't broke, don't fix it. That 6 million could have bought a world class goalkeeper to replace the accident prone Srnicek or the hapless Hislop. Instead, he tinkered with something that was working perfectly and it started to misfire.

At one crazy juncture, he had Beardsley (well into his 30s) playing wide right. It exposed the terrible truth that the instinctive goal machine of the Shankly era didn't know the game from the touchline and couldn't picture in his head what a player would bring to his team.

Asprilla was a disaster for Newcastle. Old Purple Nose and Cantona did for them. United took the league with a string of gritty 1-0 wins, the rehabiliated Cantona scoring most of them.

In a radio interview, showing the same emotionality as when he resigned the England job, Keegan snapped. It was all too much for him.

I think what Keegan has done is significant. Here is a national figure of a major nation - not known for putting its hands up for past failures, admitting culpability.

Think of how the Irish people have had to extract begrudging semi-apologies from Westminster like a dentist using blunt pliers. The arrogance of big cultures is that they cannot admit wrongdoing in their dealings with lesser beings in the colonies. This starts to seep into a national culture.

In the rapidly breaking up Britain, the English soccer team is now assuming a symbolic role for England the way the Scotland soccer team carried that nation's aspiration in the days before there was a Scottish parliament or any likelihood of one.

Keegan, up until his resignation, was among the leaders of the English tribe. The tribe that is never wrong. The tribe whose leaders are never wrong. Always the best. Always the wisest. Now we have the manager of the England soccer team saying that his true level is somewhere around Nationwide Division Two.

Could Keegan start a trend in England? Could Blair stand up in Westminster and say, ``Look, we've really ballsed up on this Irish thing. Big time. My fault of course, I pick the team. Mandy completely took his eye off the ball. He was meant to be looking after Trimble, that was the game plan. These unionist ones are stuck in the 17th century and we've based our policy on them. Major mistake! No wonder we're getting so much grief from around the planet on this one. Er, sorry.''

The Empire isn't finished until the English Superman puts his hands up to fallibility and joins the rest of the humans on the planet. Until then, Ingerlund are stuck in the moral relegation zone with Sammy.


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