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Football: KEEGAN QUITS FOOTBALL: He used to love it, really love it.. but now he doesn't love it anymore; End of an era as Kev leaves Manchester City.

Byline: Oliver Holt

HE made his managerial reputation as the people's boss, a hero the fans knew as The Messiah and the Pied Piper.

It was his infectious enthusiasm and his motivational brilliance that helped him inspire a generation of players and supporters.

And even if everyone knew he was a flawed talent, a fragile ego who cracked when Sir Alex Ferguson piled on the pressure, he was loved for wearing his heart on his sleeve.

It was his passion that made him what he was and allowed him to take Newcastle to the verge of the Premiership title on a wave of popular emotion a decade ago.

So when it became clear yesterday that his love of the game had begun to dwindle away, it was obvious that the time had come for him to quit.

This was not just goodbye to Manchester City. This was farewell to football for a man who has embodied so much that is good about the game.

He will be sorely missed. Not perhaps in the way a high achiever like Fergie or Arsene Wenger will be missed when their time comes. But in a way that reflects how he had an unparalleled talent for tapping into the populist psyche that made him an idol of fans at every club he managed.

His teams played cavalier, often kamikaze brands of attacking football, caring little for tactics and less for defence and gambling on scoring more goals than the opposition.

When he succeeded Glenn Hoddle as England manager in 1999, he gave his own assessment of what he could and couldn't bring to the job.

"If it's a 0-0 draw in the Ukraine that you want," he said memorably, "I'm probably not your man." His epitaph as a manager, though, will not have anything to do with his miserable time in charge of England when he led the side to a dismal early exit from Euro 2000.

Nor will it concern the footnotes to his career that were his spells in charge of Fulham and City, where he gradually became bogged down in mid-table obscurity.

Obscurity and Kevin Keegan were always going to be strange bedfellows, which is why it was his time in charge of Newcastle United that will always define him.

The union of his passion and the fanaticism of the Toon Army was a marriage made in heaven and only the signing of Faustino Asprilla sabotaged Newcastle's charge on the title and allowed Manchester United to overhaul them.

Keegan turned Newcastle back into a modern force in his time in the north east, though, transforming them from a struggling Division One side to a Premiership powerhouse.

Sometimes it seems as if the remnants of the magic he brought back to St James' Park still linger in the stadium now, several managers down the line.

Keegan never quite recaptured the sense of mission that he felt in Newcastle, though, and as this season wore on, he had become more and more disillusioned with his lot at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Yesterday, before the news of his decision to part company with the club and with the game, had become public, his despair at the direction English football had taken became evident when he talked about City's plight.

"In four or five years there won't be much interest in the league," said Keegan. "Fans will say it's not worth going to the games.

"The top clubs are being financed through the Champions League. They get more television money and more from sponsors.

"You don't get the big players as they want to go to the teams who are competing in the Champions League.

"You don't get the best players as they are on the biggest money and their contracts are too big for most clubs except the top three or four.

"And you don't get the best players by taking them on Bosmans as really good players don't become available as Bosmans very often. So you end up taking the next group. I have said it before but the whole transfer market and how to get a player has changed a lot."

And despite City being the only side to beat champions-elect Chelsea in the Premiership this season, he added: "It used to be we all felt we had a chance against everybody.

"As far as catching the top clubs up we have to be honest. You have your dreams and you beat them now and again.

"We have played well against those sides this season but it is hard work and there's a gulf in class at times so you must make that up with a lot of effort.

"Sometimes that will win you the day, but over a season the top teams are going to win more games."

In the end the strain of trying to climb the mountain finally sucked Keegan's great love of a great game out of him.

He never won the title as a manager but, for his contribution to English football, he will be remembered longer and with more affection than many who were loaded with honours.

CAPTION(S):

FAREWELL KEV: Keegan had a habit of waving to the fans - now it's a wave goodbye; LOVE STORY: The famous live TV interview row involving Alex Ferguson while Newcastle boss in 1996, then joining City in May, 2001 and celebrating the First Division championship a year later; I'M OUT OF HERE; KEEGAN storms off at Wembley and quit as England boss after losing to Germany in a World Cup qualifier in 2000
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 11, 2005
Words:926
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Next Article:Football: KEEGAN QUITS FOOTBALL: KEE-GONE; Kev will leave City today and walk away from football for ever.


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