AUGUST 30, 2008, and Kevin Keegan is on the look-out for signings to strengthen a Newcastle United side that has taken four points from its opening two matches of the Premier League season.
The following is a reconstruction of events that took place over the next 48 hours. When reading, bear in mind that it relates to a Premier League football club with an annual turnover of more than £70m, not a Sunday League team trying to poach a striker from the Dog and Duck. It will not be an easy thing to believe.
Kevin (sitting in his office at Newcastle’s Longbenton training ground): “Right, Terry. Let’s have a look at that list of targets again.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany international, seen him loads of times, wants to come to Newcastle. Sami Hyypia, loads of Premier League experience, would slot straight into the side.
Oliver Kapo, lively striker, fairly cheap, would do a job for us straight away. Did Dennis get the copy we sent him? (Telephone rings) Speak of the devil… Dennis: “Awright Kev.
Have I got news for you, and I’m not talking about the TV show. I’ve found you someone, goes by the name of Ignacio Gonzalez. Go and look him up, and let me know what you reckon.”
Kevin (two hours later): “I’ve tried everything here Terry. I’ve typed it all into the internet – Gonzalo, Gonzalves, Gonzalez. I can’t find anyone goes by that name, unless he wants us to go for Speedy Gonzalez, the cartoon mouse. I’ll have another word with Dennis, but I don’t like the look of this at all.”
Dennis (answering the telephone): “Watcha Kev.
What’s that, can’t find him you say. Oh he’s kosher all right. Was on loan at Monaco. How many games did he play? I don’t think that’s the important thing here. It’s the ‘commercial interests’ that count. That’s right, commercial. There’s these two influential South American agents you see.
Important, very important.
I’m sure they’d look favourably on the club in the future if we could work something out.
“Tell you what, get yourself on the old You Tube and have a look at him.
Scores goals for fun so I’m told.”
Kevin (back on the phone one hour later): “No Dennis, I’m sorry, this just won’t do.
For starters, it seems to be snowing in every game he’s playing. I didn’t know it snowed in Uruguay…What’s that you say, that’s just the quality of the clip. And it’s meant to be in black and white? Well I can’t sign anyone who nobody at the club has seen play, and as we all know from my contract, I have the ‘final say’ on all signings.”
Dennis (in his office, speaking to a Mr Ashley and a Mr Jimenez): “It’s nothing I can’t handle gents. Kev’s got a few very minor concerns, but I think it’s safe to say they’ve been smoothed over now. And anyway, it’s not as if the kid’s going to play in the first team is it. What the hell do people expect for £1m?”
Kevin: “Thank God that’s not happening Terry. Can you imagine what it would have been like turning up to work in a couple of days time and finding Ignacio Gonzalez walking through the door?”
(Two days later) Kevin (turning up to work as Ignacio Gonzalez walks through the door): “Who the hell are you son? I recognise the face, but I can’t seem to place it because it isn’t snowing. Hold on a minute, aren’t you… Dennis (arriving at the same time): “Morning Kev.
Lovely day for it.”
IT reads like the script from a particularly farfetched episode of Footballers’ Wives, but in reality it is a damning expose of the ham-fisted way Mike Ashley, Tony Jimenez, Jeff Vetere and Dennis Wise attempted to run Newcastle United Football Club. If it hadn’t played such a major role in bringing a once-great institution to its knees, it would be laughable.
As it is, it is surely the smoking gun that will finally force a thoroughly discredited regime to leave St James’ Park for good. Lies, obfuscation, deception.
Little wonder an honourable man like Kevin Keegan felt compelled to fall on his sword.
For the first time, a legal hearing has lifted the lid on the political infighting that plagued the final months of Keegan’s reign, and painted a damning picture of a board that was more interested in financial favours than football.
Instead of pursuing players who had been personally hand-picked by Keegan, a twotime European Footballer of the Year and former England manager with a weight of experience in the game, Wise, a failed ex-Leeds United boss, opted to kowtow to two “influential South Americans”.
Sign Ignacio Gonzalez and they might give Newcastle preferential treatment in the future. Isn’t it nice to know how the seedy world of football transfers really works?
Wise’s actions unquestionably made Keegan’s position untenable, sparking a chain of events that eventually led to Newcastle’s relegation in May, a relegation that led to more than a hundred honest, hardworking people (not footballers, inevitably) losing their jobs. Lives irrevocably changed for the sake of some South American backscratching.
Wise was not acting alone, of course, as he, not Keegan, had the ear of both Ashley and Jimenez. Together, the trio pursued their own agenda to the detriment of their manager, players and thousands of Newcastle fans.
The blow-by-blow account of the Gonzalez transfer blows a hole in any of the board’s protestations that they have acted with the interest of the club at heart, but in many ways, the most remarkable thing about yesterday’s 23-page tribunal report is what happened after Keegan resigned. That really exposes the breathtaking contempt that Ashley and his cronies clearly feel for the Newcastle support.
As with the recent ‘Bloodgate’ and ‘Crashgate’ episodes in rugby union and formula one, the damage caused by the botched attempts at a cover up were arguably more destructive than the incident that brought them about.
In a series of interviews published on Newcastle’s website and in the official club programme in late January and early February, Wise twice insisted that Keegan had the final word in all transfers.
Then chairman Chris Mort also repeated the assertion in a separate interview with fanzine, The Mag.
Yesterday’s ruling stated: “The Club’s explanation for these statements, which, on their case, were simply untrue, was that they were nothing more than an exercise in public relations carried out so as not to undermine Mr Keegan’s position…We do not understand why the club could not set out publicly and truthfully what they maintain was the true position.”
In other words, the board issued a series of lies that were designed simply to try to curry favour with both Keegan and the fans. How very classy indeed.
Thanks to Keegan’s dogged pursuit of his case, those lies have now been exposed and discredited. On top of all of his other failings, Wise could not even falsify the truth convincingly.
As ever with Newcastle United, there are no winners from yesterday’s proceedings.
While Keegan secured a £2m pay-out, he is out of the job he loved and will find it difficult to secure future employment in management.
Ashley, Wise, Jimenez, Vetere, Mort and Derek Llambias have been shown to be at best buffoons, at worst liars.
And the name of Newcastle United has been dragged through the mud once again.
The club is a national laughing stock, but perhaps this latest embarrassment will act as a catalyst for change. Otherwise, the lunatics will continue to run the asylum.
TEN KEY POINTS FROM THE TRIBUNAL
1 The tribunal upheld Kevin Keegan’s claim of constructive dismissal, and awarded the former Newcastle United manager £2m plus interest. Keegan, who was on an annual salary of £3m-a-year, had been claiming £25m.
2 The loan signing of Ignacio Gonzalez was described as the key catalyst for Keegan’s departure.
Despite telling Dennis Wise he did not want to sign the player, Gonzalez arrived on August transfer deadline day.
3 Keegan tried to locate Gonzalez on the internet after Wise told him to ‘look him up’, but could find no reference to the midfielder. He was then told to seek out some clips of Gonzalez in action on You Tube. No Newcastle United employee ever saw Gonzalez in the flesh before he was signed.
4 Witnesses at the tribunal admitted Newcastle had signed Gonzalez because of “commercial interests”. The club admitted Gonzalez’s arrival was a “favour” to two influential South American agents. The loan deal cost Newcastle £1m in wages, even though Gonzalez was not expected to play for the first team.
5 Keegan knew Newcastle would be appointing a director-of-football-type figure when he agreed to take over at St James’ Park. At the time, he was told it was ‘likely’ to be Dennis Wise. However, once Wise was appointed, the tribunal accepted that Keegan had a “difficult relationship”
with the executive director (football) and technical coordinator Jeff Vetere.
6 While the club admitted they had not explicitly told Keegan he would not have the final say in transfer dealings, they claimed it should have been “blindingly obvious” to the former Magpies boss following a meeting on January 16, 2008.
7 The tribunal rejected the club’s assessment of the situation, and found that Keegan had every right to expect the final say in transfer dealings.
It also accepted Keegan’s evidence that he would have turned the job down if that was not the case.
8 The tribunal also accused club officials of making statements to the press that were “simply untrue”. In these statements, the club attempted to suggest that Keegan would always have the final say over transfers, something they were not willing to countenance in practice.
9 By failing to tell the truth about the complex behind-the-scenes arrangements, the tribunal claimed the club was “simply storing up trouble for the future”.
10 Because Keegan had been constructively dismissed, rather than having resigned, the tribunal did not feel any need to award him further damages relating to future earnings and an alleged damage to his reputation