THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 31 August ~

If Aston Villa score against Liverpool today Martin O’Neill may make one of his customary touchline jumps; if a certain player happens to be the scorer, O’Neill might be danger of banging his head on a stand roof. Having seemed set for a move to Liverpool for almost three months Gareth Barry is now going to stay at Villa. Given that O’Neill and Rafa Benitez have spent the summer sniping at each other over Barry, it’s fair to assume that there will be lenses trained on the dugouts all the way through the day’s game in the hope of flurry of pointing broken up by fourth official. You would imagine, however, that both managers will be prepared for this and might even be able to joke about the furore. At his Friday press conference O’Neill said: “We will have a drink in my office afterwards - it’s just that I won’t be there.”

Another manager whose pitchside movements yesterday received a lot coverage was Kevin Keegan. Since his return to Newcastle Keegan has often cut a forlorn figure, slumped impassively in the dugout when he once would have been jumping up and imploring further effort from his players. During Newcastle’s 3-0 defeat by Arsenal, however, there was a flash of the old Keegan, as he stormed to the touchline to remonstrate with Samir Nasri after he had tripped a Newcastle player - none other than Joey Barton who had come on for the final few minutes.

Barton, who was booed by a section of his own support as well as the home crowd, faces an FA hearing this week at which he is expected to be banned for up to ten games. Keegan has emphasised his willingness to give the player yet another final chance, but it’s not clear why he made a point of bringing him on at the end of a 3-0 defeat, given that he will have to go through the same process again when Barton returns from his impending suspension.

You might wonder whether Keegan would have been so supportive of Barton if he had able to strengthen his squad significantly during the close season. Instead, the club sold James Milner to Villa against the manager’s will and may yet offload Michael Owen before the transfer window closes. Owen is in the final year of his contract for which he currently being paid £100,000 a week, in a deal set up by Newcastle’s former chairman Freddie Shepherd. The club’s current owner Mike Ashley is not prepared to meet Owen’s contractual demands so it seems that he may be released for a knockdown fee. Ashley has employed Dennis Wise and his “football development team” to snap up young players from Europe on long-term deals but a first-team squad weakened by sales might struggle this season and if it does, Keegan knows that he will carry the can.

Meanwhile Mike Ashley was caught on camera downing a pint in one at the Emirates yesterday. It might have been a toast to clever forward planning, or a need to soothe a sensation of rising panic.

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