Henry Winter: Newcastle United board pay price for undermining manager

02 October 2009 10:10
Wise's interference in Keegan's team-building plans was resented by the manager at the time and deservedly ridiculed by a tribunal on Friday.

So forget the £2 million awarded to Keegan as his due compensation for constructive dismissal. What Keegan really won was a principle beyond price.

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The former manager of Newcastle has now shown that it can be wrong legally, let alone ethically, for directors to meddle in team affairs. By signing an unknown Uruguayan against the manager's will, the Newcastle board broke Keegan's contract and have now paid for their arrogance.

An emotional but honourable type, Keegan may not have been the greatest manager in history, as those who have chronicled his teams' meltdowns will concur, but he will be royally toasted at the next League Managers' Association dinner.

Friday was a significant moment in managerial rights. Kevin Keegan: the Emily Pankhurst of the dugout.

It is one thing advising a manager against buying a troublesome player because he could damage the club's image, as one distinguished board successfully did over Joey Barton, but quite another foisting a footballer on an unwilling manager. That is the road signposted "madness''.

No wonder Keegan was so angry when talking after Newcastle's 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates on Aug 30, 2008. The transfer deadline was looming and Keegan knew that Wise and Tony Jimenez, Newcastle's vice-president (player recruitment), were negotiating to bring in Gonzalez on loan from Valencia. Keegan kept shrugging his shoulders when asked whether he talked to Wise, whether he felt undermined, whether arrivals were his choice. Five days later, he resigned.

Keegan wears his heart on his sleeve, and his departure was depicted in certain quarters as the remaining toys flying out of a familiar pram launching site, yet he had every justification to rail against Wise, Jimenez and the club's owner, Mike Ashley. Boards must trust their manager's judgment.

Look at the leading lights in the nation's technical areas over the past few seasons: Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, Rafael Benítez, David Moyes and Martin O'Neill. None would tolerate interference. Some have bought occasional pups but most invest shrewdly. If a board does want to get involved, it should focus on the manager. Either back him or sack him.

Newcastle fans will not know whether to howl with laughter or fury over the claim that their club signed Gonzalez "to 'do a favour' for two South American agents'', according to Keegan. Managers cannot be saddled with unwanted players simply because the club want to keep some middle-men happy. At least the meddle-men were put in their place by Keegan yesterday.

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Source: Telegraph