Sunday 2 March ~
Seasoned Kevin Keegan watchers – and there are thousands of us – learned how to tell when he was about to walk out on a management job. He would stand on the touchline during matches with arms folded and his mouth completely covered up by his tracksuit top. It always seemed as though he was showing his players that he had nothing left to say to them. He hasn't done the facial submergence at Newcastle this time around but his hand is never far from his mouth.
Newcastle's winless run stretched to ten games with what was by all accounts a unlucky defeat by Blackburn on Saturday. The last six of those matches have been since Keegan returned, armed with a barrage of soundbites about how Newcastle was a special club, one that could only be appreciated by a manager who understood the fans because he was one himself. "The Return of the King" has been a disaster, not least because there's been no sign of the "passion" that Keegan promised to instill in the team. It didn't help that some of the players had no knowledge of Keegan or his previous links to Newcastle – 'I honestly didn't know anything about him', said Obafemi Martins earlier this week. But in any case, improvements in team morale are going to stem from the players receiving some good coaching rather than having a new manager tell them how much he cares.
Club chairman Chris Mort insist that he still backs Keegan. But Special K's appointment was a spur of the moment gamble by owner Mike Ashley who has since appointed a whole team of people to other management roles within the club. Keegan left Newcastle the first time around because he felt that no longer had a direct relationship with chairman Sir John Hall who had bought the players his manager asked for. Now it seems that other people, notably the new director of football Dennis Wise, will be the ones compiling lists of prospective recruits. Although as Wise seems to spend each Saturday watching Newcastle, his proposed signings may all come from teams who have just taken points off his new club.
Mike Ashley was caught on camera shaking his head sadly at the end of the defeat by Blackburn, while at the same time autographing a programme handed to him by a spectator. The man previously known for being a recluse is still enjoying being in the limelight even if his club are being humiliated almost every week. Newcastle probably won't go down. But while Keegan talks about needing "five or six" players in the Summer, you sense that he doesn't expect to still be around to pose for photographs with them at St James' Park. The resignation note has already been written.