KEVIN KEEGAN hopes his relationship with the Newcastle United fans has not been soured after being awarded £2m in damages for constructive dismissal from the club last year.
Keegan claims that walking away from his job 13 months ago was one of the most difficult decisions he has “ever had to make in his life” and that he was determined to prove he was left with little alternative.
He turned his back on a £3m-a-year contract in September 2008 after a row over the loan signing of Ignacio Gonzalez, a dispute that has taken more than a year to resolve.
But Keegan, who rejected suggestions that he turned down a £4m offer to settle from Mike Ashley last week, is relieved it has finally reached a conclusion – and hopes the outcome will ensure he still holds a special bond with Magpies fans.
“I very much regret that this claim ever had to go to the hearing as it did,” said a statement released by Keegan, who hinted he was looking for a return to football during the tribunal.
“I also want to confirm that a central purpose of my claim has always been to clear my name and restore my reputation.
“I consider it of vital importance that I was able to let people know about the full circumstances of my resignation and the way in which I had been treated by the club. I hope that this purpose has now been achieved.”
Keegan quit in protest when Uruguayan Gonzalez was brought to the club on the final day of the summer 2008 transfer window against his wishes.
After reluctantly allowing James Milner to move to Aston Villa, Keegan was frustrated when Gonzalez arrived, despite indicating to the club’s then executive director, Dennis Wise, that he did not want the midfielder after being asked to watch clips of him on You Tube.
Keegan’s £2m award proved he was right to resign, although it fell well short of the £25m he had been claiming.
That amounted to £8.6m in salary and other benefits he would have been entitled to during the remaining years of his contract, and a further £16.5m in compensation for the effect of the saga on his future earning capacity.
Sources on Tyneside have claimed that administration would have been a possibility had the tribunal ruled Keegan was entitled to such a figure, although those close to the former Magpies boss insist he would have tried to ensure that would not be the case.
“I took the decision to resign in September 2008 only after very careful and anxious consideration,” said Keegan.
“The decision to resign was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to take in my life.
“I believe that anybody who knows me and my attachment to Newcastle United and the North-East in general will understand how difficult this must have been.
“I very much hope the decision of the tribunal now confirms why I felt that I had no option but to resign from the position as manager of the club that I love.
“The tribunal has found the conduct of the club in forcing a player on me against my wishes represented a fundamental breach of my contract of employment.
“I do not believe that there is any manager in football who could have remained at the club in the light of their conduct.
The 23-page report that was published on Newcastle’s official website outlined the whole sorry affair, highlighting how public statements from the Ashley regime that Keegan would have the final say on transfers were dismissed by witnesses.
Newcastle were not prepared to make a comment after learning the outcome, but there is thought to have been a sense of relief that the independent arbitration panel’s ruling does not have massive financial implications for the club.
Ashley, likely to be targeted by the fans once again during today’s Championship match with Bristol City at St James’ Park, is still trying to sell the club and the courtroom saga has made things more difficult for the Newcastle owner to do so.
Tyneside businessman Barry Moat remains in talks with Ashley and discussions will heighten following yesterday’s announcement.
Whether the ruling will encourage prospective buyers to step up their interest and push through a deal remains to be seen.
■ Newcastle’s caretaker manager Chris Hughton has revealed midfielder Joey Barton is unlikely to play again this year.
Barton underwent an operation on his foot on Thursday, having been tormented by a problem with his heel.
Hughton, who is also without Fabricio Coloccini against Bristol City, said: “It’s a big blow to us.
“Joey has gone through a lot in his career so far and we can only judge him for where he is now.
“It will be months, rather than weeks, so it is doubtful he will play again this year.”