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Four-goal Faris dreams of AFC Cup final


Mertesacker: I've never played in back 3


Lack of resources will hamper Keegan

Can a messiah achieve the promised land with a tiny squad? Or is reality in danger of biting at Newcastle United?

They may have the same manager they had in that halcyon period in the 1990s. They still have the same fans. Take That may be topping the UK hit parade once more. But there the similarities end. Kevin Keegan must negotiate a far more difficult footballing landscape in 2008/9.

Following Keegan's dramatic return in January, the team's consequent struggles may have put a brake on the more imaginative flights of fancy that greeted King Kev's shock decision to take the reins at the club he loves and whose fans will always love him.

After the deluge of goodwill that will always follow him on Tyneside came a period of real difficulty as Newcastle went eight games without a win following the announcement that Keegan would succeed Sam Allardyce

A win over Fulham in March signalled a revival. Five games of flowing football, that fabled Keegan way, were to follow. Yet the final two games of the season saw reality delivered by comprehensive defeats to Chelsea, perhaps understandably given the Blues' chase for the title and, more pointedly, Everton, the quality of team Newcastle are now aiming to be on the same level as.

Keegan's comment that Newcastle cannot now aspire for the Premier League title was not the vintage Keegan of the aspirational vein we became used to during the 1990s. However, it was classic Keegan in its honesty.

Owner Mike Ashley was said to have been annoyed by that comment. Yet, as a businessman of significant resources, he needs to be aware of the realities of the Premier League. Spend and you have more chance of winning the league. Don't spend and your best chance is no chance.

If the spending spree that Ashley countenanced for Allardyce is discounted, then Keegan is yet to receive the backing he became acquainted with at Manchester City, let alone the sprees that Sir John Hall once allowed him at Newcastle.

Football is markedly different since Keegan fled the nest in January 1997. Newcastle's last chance to compete with the big four of the Premier League went west when Sir Bobby Robson was hounded out of the club. And the time when they could break the transfer record for a player like Alan Shearer has long gone.

A familiar air of uncertainty surrounds St James' Park. Ashley has been linked with a sale of the club several times over recent months though his supposed value of £420m, twice what he paid Freddy Shepherd in May 2007, has been laughed out of town by experts. While the bars of the Bigg Market - and many of their customers - have felt the benefits offered by a portly southerner in a Newcastle shirt, Ashley has not splashed the cash on his team.

Danny Guthrie, a Liverpool reserve who spent last season at Bolton, has been added to the midfield for a sum believed to be around £2m while Jonás Gutiérrez bought out his own contract at Real Mallorca. Neither are the big-name signings that many fans had hoped for and believed would happen once Keegan returned to the club.

As what looks like a flagship signing for around £7.8m, Argentine Fabricio Coloccini has the credentials to be a decent addition, having been well regarded in the Spanish league while on loan from AC Milan and at Deportivo La Coruna. However, Toon fans will point to the likes of Marcelinho and Albert Luque as cautionary tales to be aware of. And South America imports, save for the lamented Nobby Solano, have often found it hard on Tyneside.

More worrying for the Toon Army have been transfer links for some of their more popular players. Steven Taylor was anchored to a new contract but James Milner became linked to Liverpool as part of the Guthrie deal. Charles N'Zogbia has made seductive cooing noises in the direction of Arsenal and Spurs while Michael Owen is still yet to sign a new contract.

The jungle drums state that Ashley wants Owen to sign his new deal for a lower wage, as recompense for the long periods of injury that have stunted his career on Tyneside. This seems a dangerous game to play, even for a man as used to big business risks as supremo of Sports Direct. Big names like Owen rarely settle for less.

Though selling Owen wouldn't necessarily make the owner more unpopular with the Toon Army.

Despite an improvement under Keegan in a new, almost Beardsley-esque role, Owen has never been seen to take the Geordie Nation to his heart. And his relationship with his manager was never the best back in Keegan's England days. Relations may be more cordial now, with Keegan saying with typical confidence that his biggest name will pen a new contract before the season starts. However, Owen has long seemed to be yearning for a better offer. A return to Liverpool is surely off the menu but there are some other leading clubs who are still lacking a striker.

Joey Barton's summer in the slammer gave rise to another set of Ashley horse-trading but his proposal to Barton of settling for a lesser wage or be sacked was scuppered by the interest of other clubs happy to pick him up for free. Ashley's naivety in the football world was again proved by the sharper operators who surround the game.

With Emre's time at United at an end after four unsatisfactory years, there is even less creative talent among Keegan's sparse group of players.

Talk from pre-season training has centered around fitness being the keynote of the new season. With injury problems being such a hindrance in recent times on Tyneside, that seems a sensible approach. However, the word is that the reasoning behind the square-bashing in Majorca was Keegan preparing his small bunch of player for a long season in which resources will be stretched.

Hope springs ever eternal on Tyneside, as does the boundless enthusiasm of Keegan, yet it seems that a lack of investment will likely see Newcastle drop further behind the big boys. It seems that the Toon Army need a miracle to end 40 years of hurt. Keegan may have restored a sense of fun so lacking during the austerity of Allardyce though even he may doubt that he can surpass the achievements of his first coming.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email John Brewin


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