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Monday, February 15, 1999 Published at 14:53 GMT

Sport: Football

From curly perm to people's champion

Keegan is one of the most passionate figures in the English game

Reincarnation may have been a spiritual step too far for the Football Association - but now the power-brokers of Lancaster Gate have turned to "The Messiah".

Kevin Keegan, who assumed the status of Tyneside deity during his years with Newcastle United, is the new England caretaker coach - following Glenn Hoddle's sacking by the FA for speaking out of turn on matters theological.

Lawrie McMenemy, Keegan's manager at Southampton, analyses the man (5 Live)
Keegan, unlike Hoddle, is not known for his religious beliefs - but he does have a reputation as a saviour of football clubs.

His 1970s "curly perm" now a distant memory, Keegan is these days more renowned for his emotional approach to the game and the attractive, some might say kamikaze, style of his teams.

On paper, Keegan's credentials for the England job appear wafer-thin.

As manager of Newcastle and Fulham he has won nothing of any note; his sides are better known for their alarming tendency to abdicate their defensive duties than for their winning ways; and he famously saw a 12-point lead slip away as Manchester United won the Premiership in 1996.

But the advantage he has over his rivals for the national post is his unchallenged standing as "people's champion" - the natural successor to Brian Clough.

The great communicator

[ image: Keegan won 63 caps for England, scoring 21 goals]
Keegan won 63 caps for England, scoring 21 goals
Whereas Hoddle - his former England team-mate and another of the biggest footballing idols of the late 1970s and early '80s - saw his popularity plummet after he retired, Keegan has become even more adored since hanging up his boots.

Hoddle always appeared aloof as a manager and ultimately paid the price for a string of communication breakdowns.

Keegan, though, was worshipped by the Newcastle faithful and won the hearts of neutrals everywhere, turning his United side into the most flamboyant, devil-may-care team seen in the English game for years.

'Kevin wears his heart on his sleeve' - Lawrie McMenemy (5 Live)
Put simply, he is the passionate face of football management.

This quality was never better exemplified than in his remarkable outburst during the mind-games of the 1996 title race. After some well-judged words from Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, Keegan lost his cool live on TV, furiously pointing at the screen as he proclaimed: "I would love it if we beat them."

From Scunthorpe to superstardom

While not the most naturally talented player, Keegan became one of the success stories of the Seventies, combining hard graft with bloody-minded ambition to twice become European Footballer of the Year.

His trademark perm launched a thousand haircuts on every terrace and made him one of the most recognisable figures of the decade.

[ image: While at Hamburg he was twice European Footballer of the Year]
While at Hamburg he was twice European Footballer of the Year
After starting with lowly Scunthorpe and hitting the big-time with Liverpool and Hamburg, he made the first of what was to become a succession of "I come as your saviour" arrivals at unfancied clubs, with a successful stint at Southampton.

Then, in 1982, the love affair with Newcastle began.

The veteran striker helped the Magpies win promotion to the old First Division, before cementing his god-like status with a departure laced in symbolism. After his final game Keegan disappeared into the clouds, whisked away by helicopter from the centre of the St James' Park pitch.

An eight-year break spent working on his golf handicap in Spain ended in 1992 with his return to Newcastle, this time as manager, as he led the slumbering north-east giants from the brink of the Second Division to runners-up in the Premier League.

Keegan has sometimes seemed to relish walking out on jobs at unexpected moments. And the football world was again stunned in 1997 when he quit Newcastle following a boardroom row over the club's planned share flotation.

But any ideas that this would be the end of a remarkable career were soon dispelled when he turned his recuperative powers to Fulham.

Commentary's kiss-of-death

And he remains one of the most entertaining football pundits on TV - even if it is sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

During England's match with Romania in the last World Cup he told ITV viewers "only one team can win win this now - England", just moments before Dan Petrescu scored to condemn Hoddle's team to a 2-1 defeat.

[ image: Keegan was King of the Kop during his six years at Liverpool]
Keegan was King of the Kop during his six years at Liverpool
Then in the penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final against Argentina, commentator Brian Moore asked him if David Batty would score his spot-kick. "Yes," replied Keegan, only to see the midfielder fluff his penalty and send England crashing out.

But it is this sense of fallibility, along with his passionate belief in the way the game should be played, that has made him so popular with fans and press alike.

"I'm older now, but I'm still emotional," he said last week. "It is a necessary ingredient in life.

"The day I don't get emotional about football, I'll be back playing golf again in Spain."

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