Kevin Keegan returned to Newcastle United as manager in February 1992.
Eight years after inspiring Newcastle to return to the Premier League as a player, the NUFC legend returned to try and save them from falling into the third tier for the first time in their then 100 year history.
What a centenary present that would have been! Only at Newcastle.
Kevin Keegan had three months to turn things around, with what had looked an impossible position before he arrived.
Club owner/majority shareholder John Hall had promised the new manager backing but after only 38 days in the job, KK walked out, declaring ‘It’s not like it said in the brochure.’
The sticking point had come when Kevin Keegan wanted to buy experienced defender Brian Kilcline to instil some backbone in the relegation threatened team.
John Hall refused, leading to Keegan going public to say the promised transfer backing hadn’t been forthcoming.
John Hall wasn’t stupid, he knew that without the inspirational Kevin Keegan, the club were sunk.
The £250,000 was paid for Kilcline, Keegan came back to St James Park, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Brian Kilcline only ended up playing 32 games for Newcastle but it was arguably the best £250,000 that the club has ever spent.
From that point on, John Hall backed Kevin Keegan, and the manager delivered each time the better players were delivered. However, it was only in the very late stages of his time at NUFC, when you saw the epic signing of Alan Shearer, before that the backing had still been realistic, rather than along the lines of what Jack Walker had done at Blackburn, which was unsustainable unless you had a fan owner prepared to keep pumping money in, knowing there would be no chance of getting it back.
Even the world record £15m paid for Alan Shearer was worth every penny, despite Newcastle not being competitive for much of Shearer’s time at the club, who could argue that it wasn’t a brilliant signing, that also worked in a financial sense.
Newcastle bought the greatest goalscorer the Premier League has so far seen, how much would you pay today for the player who would beat that?
Kevin Keegan knew his own worth and he also knew the value of good players, he couldn’t produce miracles for ever more, without being supported with better class players.
Moving on 26 years since that pivotal Kevin Keegan moment with John Hall, we now have Rafa Benitez.
The difference to KK is that Rafa has now already had three transfer windows where he has made clear that ‘promises’ have not been kept.
Just like Keegan before him, Rafa Benitez knows his own worth, as well as what is needed to help this club climb back up the slippery pole that under Mike Ashley, they have managed to regularly slip down so easily on a regular basis.
The Spaniard has come to a club that under Mike Ashley has had no long-term planning, ever, just going season by season and see where you are in a year’s time, often leading to a relegation fight, which hasn’t always been ‘successful’.
The very first Rafa Benitez/Mike Ashley transfer window they appeared to be working on the same page, Rafa getting some £50m to build a team for the Championship as a whole team of ‘Premier League’ players left, whilst a £40m profit on moves in and out surely kept the owner very happy. Especially when both of them watched as the plan came together and promotion as champions was achieved.
However. the cracks had already started to show, Rafa clearly led to believe he would be backed in January 2017, to bring in further players to ensure promotion and to help ensure Newcastle try and compete in the Premier League if/when they got there, which was looking very likely by that point.
Forced to shop for bargains such as Joselu and Manquillo as the likes of Huddersfield and Brighton had far far higher net spends, Rafa was clearly gutted, but just got on with the job.
January 2018 and the same old, Mike Ashley blocked Rafa from buying any players, with only loan deals allowed, whilst Brighton & Huddersfield and pretty much every other relegation threatened club bought at least one or two players.
Rafa Benitez is doing his best to present a relaxed persona as we head towards yet another transfer window, though behind the smiling exterior, he has yet again made his message clear on Friday.
He won’t be hanging around long-term at Newcastle to be made a fool out of by Mike Ashley, that Newcastle is a club that can progress with the right backing, and that this is something he and the Newcastle fans deserve to see happen.
Rafa hasn’t mentioned a ‘brochure’ just yet but he has regularly told us of broken ‘promises’, which is clearly a rotten way to run a football club and one that is always destined for eventual disaster, especially if you drive out a manager such as Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez – Friday 4 May 2018:
“Sometimes people think that [bargaining hard with an owner like Mike Ashley to get the backing you want/need] is negative…but I think it is a positive because it means you care.
“I am not thinking about myself…if you want to go to another level, you need more quality.
“When you have experience you try to do your best for your team, for your club, for your fans.
“I don’t really enjoy this negotiating and I would be happier just thinking about my team, my players, tactics, analysing opposition teams and improving players – but in modern football, especially in the Premier League, the budget is crucial.
“When I say I have ambition and I want to win something, it is because the fans also have this ambition to win something.
“I did not come to Newcastle after so many games, so many titles, just to say, ‘OK, we will see what happens.’
“I want to compete, to try to win, everyone has the same feeling.
“We have the potential to do that and so I fight to do the right things…what you need is more quality in the squad.”