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Football: STEVE SO KEAN TO BE A WINNER; Exclusive Former Celtic kid is loving managerial life in the Premiership at Fulham.

Byline: By Anthony Haggerty

STEVE KEAN and Chris Coleman are more than just Celtic cousins as they make up the youngest managerial duo in the English Premiership with Fulham.

And fate played a huge role in bringing the 36-year-old Scotsman and 33-year-old Welshman together.

It is not often you hear that having to quit football at a young age turns out to be a blessing in disguise.

In that respect Kean and Coleman, whose careers were cut short in their 20's, are cut from the same cloth.

Once a promising youngster on the books of Celtic, Kean never quite made the grade at Parkhead and ended up playing the rest of his career at Swansea, Academica in Portugal and then a final stint back in England.

It was whilst playing with Reading in the Mark McGhee era of the mid1990s when Kean, in his own words, 'did the lot to the tib, fib, ankle and leg and was cleaned out' as doctors broke the bad news that at just 26, his football career was over.

However the words that he would never play again did not hit Kean like a thunderbolt.

Instead the Glaswegian, who still retains a strong Scottish accent and speaking exclusively to Record Sport, revealed that in hindsight it may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to him.

Kean said: 'I was at Celtic almost straight from school when Davie Hay was the manager but it was Billy McNeill who signed me from the Celtic Boys Club.

'I spent five years at Celtic but never quite made the first-team breakthrough.

'From there I went and played with Academica Coimbra and Neval in the Portuguese leagues for five years and that was a fantastic experience.'

It was while playing in Portugal that Kean got bitten by the managerial bug.

The young apprentice learned his football coaching trade in highly esteemed company Kean played his first-team football in the stadium where England take on Croatia in the Euro 2004 championships and played under Antonio Oliveira, the former coach of the national side.

Kean said: 'I developed a love and taste of coaching from my five years in Portugal.

'I played for Academica for five years under Oliveira, and he was a fantastic coach.

'It was there that I first had an insight into coaching. His way was very different and he was an outstanding coach.

'Portugal has the weather and one thing you notice about most of the European players is they are all very gifted technically.

'In Scotland it is difficult to spend time on basic techniques because it is freezing and you lose valuable time with the players if you are continually teaching them techniques.

'Portugal has great facilities and I know that Celtic still train at Barrowfield which is where the club trained when I was starting out as a footballer nearly 25 years ago.

'Rangers' Murray Park is a tremendous training facility and there will come a time when they will reap the benefits of that.

'What I can't understand is how all the money was allowed to be frittered away in Scotland without clubs building decent training facilities or academies which is the norm down in England.'

The leg break sustained at Reading shoved Kean into a hands on coaching role more by accident than design and he took charge of the Under-15s and 16s.

He then graduated to youth team coach and became youth development officer after getting the call to join Fulham five years ago in the same capacity.

It was at Craven Cottage where he would meet Coleman and a fusion of two footballing minds was just months away.

Welsh international and club captain Coleman endured the same physical pain of having to call it quits after a horrendous car crash at the tail end of last season and was then elevated to the managerial hotseat when Frenchman Jean Tigana shocked the club by resigning as manager.

It was Kean, for obvious reasons that Coleman turned to when he needed an assistant and Fulham had five games last season to keep them in the Premiership. No pressure then? Kean said: 'When I met Chris at Fulham we were both anxious and hungry to put something back into football and coaching seemed a natural progression for us both.

'I think Chris and myself would say that it has been a bit of a blessing in disguise having both our playing days cut short and we have flung ourselves heart and soul into our coaching roles at the club.

'I always wanted to be involved in coaching, it just happened to come along a whole lot earlier than I envisaged. I think Chris and Iwould both admit that in hindsight it could turn out to be the best thing that happened to us.

'At the time it was devastating for us both and you do not think in terms of your next career move but both Chris and myself have taken a massive positive out of a crushing negative.

'We were flung in at the deep end last season and kept the team in the English Premiership and that was important as we did not want to be the proverbial yo-yo club.

'Those five games were as big as it gets for Fulham and myself and Chris.

'It could have made or broke us as a managerial partnership as we were heading down into the Nationwide but we pulled off the miracle that we needed 'It was so crucial to Fulham's long-term development that we stayed in the Premiership and started to produce and develop our players.'

Their relationship has blossomed since then and now Coleman and Kean are setting about the next phase of taking Fulham to their highest-ever league placing and qualification for the Champions League.

Kean said: 'The fact that Chris and myself are both younger managers helps.

'We feel we have our finger on the pulse and we are not knocking the experienced guys when we say that.

'We have both worked with a lot of the Fulham squad from an early age, we are confident in our own abilities and know this club from top to bottom.

'We have shared the same devastating football experience as players and maybe that's the main reason why we do bounce off each other so well.

'For the moment I am happy as we have a solid partnership and I can see it lasting for a very long time.

'We both have our strengths, Chris is the manager of the club where as I am more of a tracksuit type doing my bit on the training ground as that is what I enjoy most. We work so well together.

'Fulham have never finished higher than 10th in the Premier-ship and we have a chance of achieving that this season.

'In years to come we both want to take Fulham even higher and into the Champions League but we do not want to aim too high too quickly.

'There is no secret to our success because as a fiercely patriotic Scotsman and Welshman we just have a massive desire to win and that is in the blood.'

Blood.

That's the one solitary thing that Kean and Coleman are not bonded by.

CAPTION(S):

WATCHFUL EYE: Scotsman Steve Kean is helping to make Fulham a force in the Premiership; WHO NEEDS EXPERIENCE? Keane and Fulham boss Chris Coleman prove that old is not always best as they hope to lead Fulham to their highest finish
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 25, 2004
Words:1256
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