x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Newcastle soap opera could have had a different Toon

Kevin Keegan was on the verge last night of quitting as Newcastle manager for a second time.

Kevin Keegan was on the verge last night of quitting as Newcastle manager for a second time, leaving the Toon Army wailing at the gates of St James' Park. The one-time England manager was so fed up with his not-infrequent clashes with his penny-pinching owners that he was reduced to taking legal advice on how he might walk away with an £8 million (Dh52.8m) pay-off. For their part, Newcastle would only say that they were not sacking him.

Yet things could have been so very different had the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) bought Newcastle United - as Dr Sulaiman al Fahim had planned earlier this summer - rather than Manchester City. But the ADUG bid was thwarted by Mike Ashley, the Newcastle owner, because he would not entertain offers that would have forced him to relinquish a majority shareholding in the club. Three weeks ago, Ashley said: "Newcastle United could well get several approaches every month about buying the club. They could be serious approaches from serious entities. But my stance is simple - am I looking to sell up? No. Would I like partners in Newcastle United? Of course, that would make sense."

The upshot: Fahim turned his attentions to Manchester City, Robinho and all that, leaving Keegan with no money to buy the players he desperately needed to strengthen his squad. "Newcastle have missed out on a multi-million pound investment that could have enabled them to compete with the established 'Big Four' within the space of one or two years," observed the Northern Echo, with more than a trace of bitterness.

Originally, Fahim had mulled over the possibility of buying Arsenal. When it became clear that was simply not feasible (and, perhaps, not that desirable given Arsenal's high level of achievement already) his gaze swivelled towards Newcastle. Amanda Staveley, whose financial advisory company PCP Capital Partners are also trying to broker a deal to buy Liverpool for a Dubai consortium, approached Ashley but were told he was not interested unless ADUG would settle for a minority stake.

They were not and so, in a matter of a couple of weeks, the deal to buy Manchester City was put together. Now they are the club, not Newcastle, that Fahim is promising to turn into "the biggest in the world". Little wonder that Keegan, who has spent most of the summer being told that there is not the money available to buy the players he wanted, was more than a little miffed. The final straw seems to have been the £12m sale of James Milner to Aston Villa last week and the bid to sell the troubled and troublesome Joey Barton - whom Keegan had stood buy despite his prison sentence for assault - to Portsmouth for £4m.

Keegan, 57, only rejoined Newcastle in January and his relationship with Ashley has not been good. The manager was unhappy when, shortly after he took the job, Ashley brought in Dennis Wise, the former Leeds manager and Chelsea player, as executive director of football with power to oversee transfer activity. And, in the spring, Ashley was clearly peeved when Keegan said that he could not see Newcastle breaking in to the top four in the Premier League.

Disillusionment grew on both sides. Keegan said that the talented Milner would not leave, only to learn last week that he was on his way. Wise was also believed to have been behind moves to sell Michael Owen, which came to nothing. By the transfer deadline at midnight on Monday, six players had joined but at less cost than the five sold. The two players signed just before the deadline, Xisco and Ignacio Gonzalez, were not believed to be on Keegan's wish list.

On Tuesday, Keegan confronted Ashley and, for the second time in his managerial career at Newcastle, got to the point where he almost decided to leave, simply because he could take no more. Last night, he was still mulling over his future. Some observers felt that, already, his long-term position at Newcastle was untenable. "Newcastle are almost terminally unstable," observed Phil McNulty, a BBC sports commentator, "shifting from manager to manager with monotonous regularity, and shipping players in and out in a ludicrous revolving door policy."

As Keegan eyed that revolving door for what might be the last time (or might not be - you can never tell with Newcastle), how must he have envied Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, who, unexpectedly, finds himself with Robinho on his team with the prospect of more to come when the transfer window reopens in January. So, when the league resumes in 10 days' time after the international break, it will be the Man City fans who will cram the terraces wearing their home-made agals and ghutras in celebration.

The Toon Army will probably be wearing long faces and left to wonder what might have been. @Email:dsapsted@thenational.ae