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Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 18:17 UK

Keegan hails African presence

By Ben Wyatt

Kevin Keegan
Kevin Keegan says his African players are 'vital'

Kevin Keegan, manager of Premier League side Newcastle United, has hailed the impact of his side's African players, saying they are 'vital' for the future.

"I'm lucky, most of my African players have experience of big leagues; they're very important to us," Keegan told BBC Sport.

Nigeria's Obafemi Martins and Geremi of Cameroon have played key roles in Newcastle's recent turnaround in form.

Both scored in the Magpies recent 4-1 away win against Tottenham Hotspur.

Geremi also provided the decisive passes for the two goals which gave Keegan his first win in his second term on Tyneside, a 2-0 victory over Fulham.

"They are all very experienced. Obafemi Martins has played in Italy (Inter Milan), Habib Beye in France (Strasbourg and Marseille), and Abdoulaye Faye (Bolton Wanderers) and Geremi (Chelsea and Middlesbrough) have played in the Premier League for a long time," Keegan added.

Africa is a place you can't ignore now because there are so many talented players there

Kevin Keegan

"They're all great trainers and very professional - and that's something you don't always get with young players from elsewhere."

DR Congo's Kazenga LuaLua, brother of Lomana, has broken through the youth ranks this season and with the recent signing of Senegal's Lamine Diatta, Keegan now has six players from Africa at his disposal.

And the man dubbed 'King Kev' by the Newcastle faithful agrees that the African profile in world football has heightened since his last time in charge.

"Africa is a place you can't ignore now because there are so many talented players there.

"You just have to look at the Premier League which is just littered with players from the continent.

"There's evidence of players who have come to England and performed very, very well."

Obafemi Martins
Nigeria's Obafemi Martins is a key member of Newcastle's squad

And it seems the African players are glad of the new manager's presence too.

Super Eagles' striker Obafemi Martins thinks Keegan has been like a 'breath of fresh air' to the side.

"Things weren't going right with Sam Allardyce so the owner decided to do something about it.

"Our training now is sharper and we look to attack more when we have the ball, so that's been good for me. It's good to have Kevin Keegan here."

Geremi was signed by former manager Allardyce and made club captain.

Geremi lost the captaincy but is still happy under Keegan

But despite his recent demotion the Indomitable Lion has relished the opportunity to prove himself to the new man in charge.

"It is always difficult because every manager has their own mind. I respect that and the fact that it took some time for him to get to know the squad.

"But now he knows us all better and we hope we are going to do a lot of good things together," Geremi said.

After a stuttering start to his reign, Keegan is now targetting a top 10 finish for the Magpies.

If he achieves his aim, Newcastle's African contingent will surely have played a big part in that success.

see also
Keegan aims for top-half finish
31 Mar 08 |  Newcastle United
Tottenham 1-4 Newcastle
30 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Newcastle 2-0 Fulham
22 Mar 08 |  Premier League

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