Keegan confirms support for jailed Barton
Kevin Keegan will welcome Joey Barton back to Newcastle when he returns to the club but admits the controversial midfielder has plenty of work to do to regain people's confidence.
The 25-year-old was sentenced to six months in jail for assault and affray after an incident in Liverpool city centre in December and was also given a four-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after admitting assault occasioning actual bodily harm on former Manchester City team-mate Ousmane Dabo during a training session last year.
There were suggestions that Newcastle would part ways with the former England international, but Keegan has revealed he vowed to stick by Barton when he returned to St James' Park last season.
And although Keegan has promised his player total support, he admits Barton must regain acceptance in the football work on his own merits.
'Joey will be back towards the end of the month,' Keegan told Radio Five's Sportsweek programme. 'It's well-documented that he's had his problems but I knew of those problems at the time of taking over.
'I told him as long as he did things right and started to rebuild the confidence of everyone around him, which he has to do, we would stick by him.
'And the Joey Barton we had for the last two months of the season was a much-changed character.'
Keegan continued: 'He's been punished for what he did wrong and the world is littered with people who have deserved a second chance, got it and taken it with both hands.
'There are lot of things he has to put right with people but I think he can do that. It's up to Joey now and he's got to win a lot of people over.'
Keegan, meanwhile, is hoping captain Michael Owen will soon commit his future to the club with a new long-term deal.
'I'm not involved with that with the way the club works - that's for Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez to sort out.
'But I believe he will (sign a new deal). I know he wants to stay and know we want to keep him, they are two things in our favour.
'I hope that it will be sorted out in the couple of weeks. He's a leader for us in the way trains, the way he leads by example.
'He's not one to shout and ball and wave his fists about but he shows people how to play the game properly and that's the kind of captain I like.'
Keegan maintains his belief that the top four are unlikely to be caught by the chasing pack in the near future but does believe he can inspire the Magpies to a successful season.
He said: 'As we try and stengthen to catch up the top four strengthen to keep us away. Being realistic is important and at the moment they are they are a little way ahead of us - the league table shows you that.
'You try but the odds are a little bit against you, especially when you play them away. But you must always believe you have a chance and we'll go there and think we have a chance.
'Between four and eight (in the table) would, to be honest, be a big step up for us.
'Looking at it purely from the crowd point of view - look how strong the fan base is in the north east.
'We should be able to make it a difficult place to come and get points.'