Newcastle United, Kevin Keegan & The Selling Club Cliche
I love Kevin Keegan. Always will.
I’ll never, ever forget the great years he gave us in the 80s & 90s, the huge lift he’s given the club simply by being there, the spellbound hold he has over mackems who will rage forever at his 100% derby record against them as manager, the sheer thrill of the rollercoaster ride he took us on from 1992 to 1997. However, he went down in my estimation this morning.
Perhaps it was borne out of bitterness towards Mike Ashley. Perhaps it was an attempt to display some sort of foresight by having an inside knowledge of the inner workings of the regime running Newcastle United. Realistically, what Kevin Keegan did was trot out one of the laziest and most disappointing clichés that still linger around Newcastle United. “They are a selling club”.
It’s widely accepted that most ex-footballer pundits in this country make ridiculously easy money. For pretty much zero research, effort and analysis they work through a few stock lines and are paid handsomely for their “work”. There are exceptions, of course. Gary Neville and Pat Nevin do add value in their roles with the kind of insight and tactical awareness you’d hope to get from ex-professionals. However, the likes of Lawrenson, Southgate, Shearer, Hansen, Dixon etc. basically sit there every week and tell us “that’s a great cross”, “he’ll be disappointed to have missed that penalty”, “great tackle, there”, collect their money and go home. Keegan has now very much positioned himself in that bracket. Dishing out easy platitudes and gentle criticism amongst a swamp of stating-the-obvious nothingness.
As a pundit, Newcastle United is one area in which Keegan would be perceived nationally as an expert. Ex-player, ex-manager (twice), has worked with Mike Ashley, understands the club, the fans etc. However, despite couching his comments at yesterday’s SoccerEx event in praise for Graham Carr’s scouting, Keegan declared that “Newcastle are a selling club, they didn’t give Ba the sort of security he wanted in his deal.” It really is just a lazy slur on the club and the people running it and, crucially, it’s based on absolutely nothing. In the three years since we gained promotion back to the Premier League, we have sold eight players for a fee. In addition we have allowed Barton, Guthrie, Lovenkrands, Smith, Xisco and Ranger to leave the club for nothing. Of the players we received money for, you would genuinely struggle to make a case for most of them currently being a regular in our starting XI; Forster, Enrique, LuaLua, Nolan, Routledge, Best, Carroll and Ba.
Forster left because he couldn’t get a regular game here. Ditto for Best, Routledge and LuaLua. Selling players who can’t get in the team doesn’t make you a “selling club” so we can discount those four. Nolan was on the verge of losing his place in the side when he left and, as it turned out, moved to a club a division below us. This is hardly in the realms of having your top players poached for big money by big clubs so I’m prepared to discount that one, too.
Demba Ba’s release clause is much-publicised, as are the club’s attempts to increase his pay and negotiate that clause out of his contract. Never at any stage has Ba (or his many associates) made a statement to imply that the club didn’t endeavour to keep him. What happened is that he was offered a huge salary by the champions of Europe. We were basically powerless to prevent him leaving, whatever we said or did.
Jose Enrique was another who had his head turned. Liverpool had been sniffing around for a while, he was in the stronger bargaining position knowing that he had 12 months left on his contract, we had the choice of either selling him or losing him for nothing a year down the line. No point in keeping a player who doesn’t want to be there, so off he went.
Finally we have Andy Carroll. £35m. Nothing more needs to be said.
So, if selling players who refuse to sign a new contract, or selling players when you receive an offer £25m over their market value makes you a “Selling Club” then we’re bang to rights. However, we’re in pretty good company. Look at Manchester United unable to refuse a gigantic offer for Ronaldo. Look at Arsenal selling Robin van Persie because he was going out of contract. Unless you’re backed by the kind of money that props up Chelsea, Manchester City or Paris Saint Germain for example, you have to run a club as a business. In which case every player has a price and all clubs are open to offers when they have a star player going out of contract.
Maybe Keegan is right to call us a “selling club” but he’d have been just as perceptive to call us “an English club based in the north east of England”. You’re a Newcastle legend, Kevin but you’re a very lazy pundit.
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