Football

Kevin Keegan Details 'Favours' Newcastle Did For South American Agents

Kevin Keegan Details 'Favours' Newcastle Did For South American Agents

If you were asked which Premier League club has been constantly mismanaged, chances are one outfit would spring to mind; Newcastle United. During Mike Ashley's tenure as owner of the club, the Magpies have been relegated twice and burned through a series of managers. Rafael Benitez is the currently in the hot seat, but his relationship with Ashley has also deteriorated, with the London billionaire unwilling to back the Spaniard in the summer transfer window.

One man who has been vocal about the way the club has been run is club legend Kevin Keegan. The former Liverpool striker took the job in January of 2008 for the second time, but only lasted eight months in the role and in his new autobiography the 67-year-old has stated that the straw that broke the camel's back was the club's signings of Xisco and Ignacio Gonzales.

Keegan revealed that Dennis Wise who was executive director at the club at the time assured the coach to that Gonzalez was the real deal:

Dennis said he had heard great things but admitted he had never actually seen him play. Further enquiries revealed that nobody, in fact, from Newcastle had ever seen this guy kick a ball.

Nor did it say much for the player that Dennis had texted me the wrong name, and my initial search on the internet came up with nothing. I had to go back to Dennis to find out the correct spelling. But I did as he asked.

I logged on again, typed in González’s name and eventually found him. I looked at his background, his age and what he had done in his career, and it didn’t need a great deal of investigation to realise this player would be out of his depth in the higher echelons of the Premier League.

González had gone on loan to Monaco, then a mid-table team in France, earlier in the year and flopped. He made five appearances in six months and didn’t finish 90 minutes once. We were coming to the end of August and he had played fewer than 200 minutes since Christmas. He didn’t speak a word of English and, for the life of me, I couldn’t see any reason why Newcastle might be attracted to him.

Keegan then rang Wise to veto the signing, but Wise was steadfast in his opinion that Gonzalez was a 'great player', and implored Keegan to check out the Uruguayan's Youtube highlights:

YouTube? I came from an era when managers chose players on more than a few carefully edited clips on YouTube. I wanted to know a player’s character. I wanted to see how hard he worked, whether he had a good positional sense, what his concentration was like. Those were things you didn’t get from 60 seconds online.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from Dennis — an experienced football man — but I did log on to YouTube and eventually found a short video showing Gonzáles’ career highlights. It looked as if he was playing in a local park in some of the games.

Later Keegan would find out from Wise the real reason for the signings of Gonzales and Xisco:

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Dennis explained it was a favour for two agents — Paco Casal, a Uruguayan, and Marcelo Lombilla, an Argentinian — who had helped us get [Fabricio] Coloccini and [Jonás] Gutiérrez, and that if we took the hit on this one occasion and agreed to “park” González, they would look upon us favourably in the future.

Dennis called it a “favour”. A favour? As favours go, it was going to cost Newcastle a fortune. Both players were going to earn seven-figure salaries, and in Xisco’s case it was upwards of £3 million a year. Casal pocketed €250,000 from Valencia as his slice of the [González] deal. It must have been the easiest money he had ever made and, laughably, González’s loan deal had an option to buy him for £8 million at the end of the season.

Wise explained that Keegan would not have to play Gonzalez, that they wanted "to keep the agent sweet", and that the midfielder could be got rid of in January if needs be.

But this did not sit right with Keegan who left the club and put in a claim for constructive dismissal, taking Newcastle to an independent arbitration panel, eventually winning £2 million from his former employers.

Keegan bemoaned the fact that at the end of that season Newcastle were relegated and over a hundred "honest, hard-working people" lost their jobs, all "for the sake of some South American backscratching".

As for the players, Gonzalez only made two appearances for Newcastle, with Xisco not faring much better, notching nine league appearances and scoring just the solitary goal in his four-and-a-half years on Tyneside.

You can read the full extract from Keegan's autobiography in The Times.

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Eoin Lyons

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