https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/kevi ... -lzmxxccmlKevin Keegan wrote:Nobody has ever officially told me I am banned from St James’ Park. Sometimes, though, you know when you are not welcome, and it is almost a decade now since it became apparent that, as far as the people at the top of Newcastle United are concerned, I will always be persona non grata as long as the Mike Ashley regime remains in place.
The saddest thing is that I would not want to go back anyway after everything that happened in my second spell as Newcastle manager and, though my feelings for the club won’t fade, that policy is set in stone until Mike Ashley has gone, and more than a hundred years of proud football history is removed from his business portfolio.
The only time I have made an exception came after an invitation to a private function at St James’ Park one night when there was no football on. It was a leaving do for a lifelong Newcastle fan. My first response was to send my apologies and explain it would be impossible for me to attend. Then I started feeling bad because the guy was leaving for a new life in America and I knew everyone wanted me to be there for his send-off. I didn’t want to let him down. And, besides, I have always loved a challenge.
I improvised. I put on a pair of glasses, I found a flat cap and I turned up the collar on my overcoat to complete the disguise. I found a quiet place to park my car, a safe distance from the ground, and then I walked in the back way, sticking to the shadows and avoiding eye contact with passers-by. It was dark and nobody had recognised me until I made it to the stadium entrance. Then one of the staff came over straight away. “Hello, Kevin,” she said, with one of those lovely Geordie welcomes. “What are you doing back here?”
My cover was blown but at least it was a friendly face rather than a hand being placed on my shoulder. The problem was I didn’t know if everybody in the building might be so hospitable and I didn’t want to take any chances. I asked if she would mind keeping it quiet and then I took the lift to the top floor. I had rung ahead to say I was on my way. Everyone had been briefed that the operation had to be conducted in complete secrecy and, when I hurried down a corridor, lined with photographs of my old teams, they were waiting for me inside one of the executive lounges. I was in and, apart from one minor scare, Operation KK had been a success. Mission accomplished.
I know how absurd it must sound and, when I think about it properly, what kind of craziness is it that someone with my long emotional history with Newcastle now has to smuggle himself into the ground where the owner used to call me “King Kev”? But this is an extraordinary club, run by unconventional people, and perhaps the most charitable way I can put it, as Jesus said on the cross, is to “forgive them for they know not what they do”.
These people don’t know what a precious club this is. They don’t comprehend that football in this big, vibrant city is about self-esteem. They have made a toy out of Newcastle United and, as much as it pains me to say it, I have no desire to be associated with the place for as long as that continues. I will gladly return when they have gone, and I am already looking forward to the day when Newcastle is free of the man who has lurched from one bad decision to another, run an empire of self-harm and handed money and power to people who deserved neither.
Until then, however, Ashley and his associates don’t need to worry about me making a habit of turning up incognito. I don’t want to share my oxygen with these people, trust me.
I have, after all, experienced the full force of the Ashley regime and, though I won my case against Newcastle for constructive dismissal, you can take my word that it wasn’t a pleasant experience being engaged in a legal battle against a man of such power and immense wealth. That it was Newcastle at the centre of this litigation made it an even more harrowing experience. Indeed, the whole thing was so hideous it convinced me I never wanted to work in football again.
I came up against a wall of incompetence, deceit and arrogance; you really couldn’t make up some of the things that happened at Newcastle under this regime. It was a tragicomedy.
I knew it was important to build a relationship with [Tony] Jimenez. I was intrigued by this guy and wanted to know how a property developer had found himself in such an influential role at one of England’s top football clubs. He certainly talked well, but was there any substance to it?
Jimenez had risen without trace. Yet I did find out he had a background, of sorts, in football. It turned out this Newcastle executive — a man given the title of “vice-president (player recruitment)” — had previously been a steward at Chelsea’s home games. That was where the link with Dennis Wise, formerly a Chelsea player, came about, and how he had befriended some of the players at Stamford Bridge. It wasn’t the most glittering CV I had ever seen.
That wouldn’t have mattered too much if Jimenez could walk the walk, as well as talking the talk, but it wasn’t long before I began to suspect there might not be a great deal of substance behind the big promises.
Jimenez had positioned himself as a football expert but it turned out this bewildering character — the man in charge of Newcastle’s recruitment, no less — admitted during discussions about potential transfer targets that he had never even heard of Per Mertesacker.
Can you believe that? Mertesacker had made his debut for Germany four years earlier. He was recognised as one of the outstanding players in the 2006 World Cup and had been an ever-present for his national team when they reached the final of Euro 2008. He was one of the best defenders in Europe and would go on to win over 100 caps for his country. Yet Jimenez didn’t have the foggiest who he was. I tried my hardest to retain a sense of humour and, somehow, I could laugh on occasion at the absurdity of it all. But there were other moments when it made my head ache to think what they were doing to a famous old sporting institution. It was an incredible story, but a sad one, mostly — and I had never known anything like it at any other football club.
Dennis Wise had been confirmed as the club’s director of football within a couple of weeks of my appointment. I had envisaged we would work together closely, but it wasn’t long before I realised that the likeable guy I used to pick for England — a chirpy little character who had never given me any problems — was going to stick very closely to Jimenez and, in turn, keep his distance from me.
At one point I took a call from Luka Modric’s agent to ask if I would be keen on signing the player from Dinamo Zagreb. Modric had already been speaking to Spurs and his agent was honest enough to explain the move to White Hart Lane was likely to happen. Yet it was clear there might still be a chance to gazump that deal, otherwise the agent would never have bothered getting in touch. “Mr Keegan, I’m a massive fan of yours and I’d very much like to discuss it with you,” he said. Dinamo Zagreb wanted £16 million and the wages were quite high, but it was still within our budget and, at 22, Modric had his best years ahead of him. He was exactly the kind of player I wanted to see in a black and white shirt.
His agent flew up from London and this time it was me inviting Jimenez to be part of it, rather than him cutting me out of the loop. It was an opportunity to sign one of the outstanding young footballers in Europe and, to begin with, I was making decent inroads. I explained what a great club Newcastle was, how the supporters would adore Modric and how we were looking for someone to spark us off.
Then Jimenez piped up. “Can I come in here?” he said. “I don’t think Luka is good enough for the Premier League. He’s too lightweight. He’s decent, but he’s not good enough.”
Terry [McDermott] was also in the meeting and we just stared at each other in disbelief. The agent looked shocked. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Are you saying my player is not strong enough? Luka’s a very strong boy, I can assure you.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” Jimenez continued. “My view is that he’s too lightweight for English football, he’s too small.”
It was an awful moment and, ten years on, it needs only a cursory glance at Modric’s achievements to realise what a nonsense it was. Even back then, however, it was laughable.
Extract from his upcoming book. Another will be released on Monday:
Monday: Part two - deals that ended it all at Newcastle
‘It was fundamentally wrong at every level and various people were getting rich off the back of it. It turned my blood cold.’