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Sep 3, 2008

Confusion reigns over Keegan's Newcastle future

Kevin Keegan's future at Newcastle United remains shrouded in mystery with the club claiming he has not been sacked nor has he resigned. Newcastle today revealed talks were ongoing with, for now, their manager.

A club statement said: 'Newcastle United Football Club can confirm that discussions are ongoing between the board and Kevin Keegan.

'Both the club and Kevin would like to reiterate that Kevin remains as manager.

'He has not resigned nor has he been sacked, as has been confirmed in respective statements made by Kevin and Newcastle United Football Club.'

There are now several theories emerging about the saga concerning player transfers, Keegan's control over club affairs and the desire to secure his compensation pay-off before leaving St James's Park.

League Managers' Association chief executive Richard Bevan admitted Kevin Keegan was 'in a difficult position'. While some would say his position is untenable, and even if the problems were ironed out it would only be a matter of time before they resurfaced.

The attempted sale of Joey Barton, a player owner Mike Ashley has long wanted to see the back of, was well documented on deadline day. But now it is claimed the club attempted to sell Michael Owen as well, perhaps to stave off the possibility of him signing a pre-contract agreement in January to join a rival on a free transfer.

In addition, Newcastle's efforts to reduce the wage bill by attempting to offload some of their highest earners, and James Milner's £12million switch to Aston Villa, did not go down well with a man whose squad was already under great pressure because of both a lack of numbers and injuries.

Keegan is thought to have accepted that he has little control over incoming transfers, though he would much rather target established stars than younger, promising foreign players. But the 57-year-old was believed to have felt he had a strong grip on player sales which he appeared to have lost on Monday.

The frustration of the passionate Newcastle fan has, not for the first time, seemingly boiled over.

If Keegan was indeed sacked, as seems most likely, he is reported to be due a compensation package totalling £8million. The fans ire at the demise of their messiah, coupled with the huge pay-off, appears to have made the club's hierarchy think again.

Indeed, if Keegan, who did not take training on Monday, does leave it may be that he has to accept less than his contracted settlement. It's an impasse for Ashley who desperately needs to recoup some credibility after a week of discontent on Tyneside. He clearly wants a manager who fits in with his overall vision but appointing Keegan went against that ethos.

Keegan and the club's legion of chiefs are now set for showdown talks over the next few days with most of the Magpies' squad away on international duty. It is far from certain who will take training when they are back at the club towards the end of next week.

Bevan conceded Keegan's position was unclear and that discussions were ongoing.

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: 'It is not ideal having to speak to you on managers' positions so early in the season but I was speaking to Kevin Keegan at length last night.

'He has not resigned. He is in a difficult position - he'll be discussing really important issues with the Newcastle board over the next few days.

'The football club and the fans are massively important to Kevin and after such heavy coverage and speculation yesterday it was important to make this statement that he has not resigned.'

Bevan would not be drawn on the issues behind the current situation. Instead, he repeated his insistence that Keegan had not resigned and revealed the former Magpies player would continue to speak to the club board over the next few days.

He continued: 'I can understand that there is an eagerness for more information on the problems but at this stage I think it is important that we let the parties communicate and it would be inappropriate for me to pre-judge any outcome or explain the issues much more at this particular point.

'I'm just saying he has not resigned, he will be working hard to communicate with the Newcastle board and we'll have to wait and see what the outcome is over the next few days.'

When asked whether any possible sale of Owen was behind the situation, Bevan said: 'I can't confirm that either way.'

Bevan categorically stated he was not negotiating a compensation package for Keegan but when asked if the LMA expected to do so over the coming days, he said: 'Let's not prejudge that.

'I think the importance of this statement and this conversation really is for the respect of the fans and the numerous stakeholders in the game to explain where we are because there was an awful lot of inappropriate speculation from various people yesterday.

From Kevin's perspective he has not resigned and he will be discussing these issues and important issues with the Newcastle board over the next few days.

'I hope he does (remain at Newcastle for the season) but I can't prejudge that.'

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