Kevin Keagan: death by hierarchy

If you go back a year and ferret around you will find that I support Newcastle United and have done since I was very young. There was a time when I was taken to football matches in a three wheeler Reliant by two Burma veterans! We used to stop off in a dingy bar near the ground while they supped their ale and passed offensive comments on all and sundry. The unaccompanied women in the bar were ‘scrubbers’, the bar staff were ‘lazy teds’ and the city was an ‘effing dustbin’. The fact that their wrists and ankles had been eroded from their diet during their incarceration by the Japanese and gave constant pain, didn’t lessen my youthful embarrassment. Their comments on the Newcastle Board of Directors were unprintable. Since Len Shackleton’s famous blank page, under the chapter, What Club Directors know about footballI seem to have survived so many upheavals in the stewardship of my club. None of these has been remotely tolerable to someone who makes his living helping sort out organisational management, never mind your average supporter who prefers to focus entirely on the black and white stripes.

The latest debacle (for those of you who know nothing about the case) involves the likely constructive dismissal of Kevin Keagan, a pied piper of a club manager for Newcastle fans. The new owners set up a continental-style hierarchy to run the club, above him. Usually, in UK football, the manager does everything from hiring and firing to media communications and, most importantly, the coaching. Keagan says he was promised that he would have the final say on hiring and firing players. Indeed, there is much documented evidence that this was the original agreement, from the mouths of the said hierarchy via the club website. But, over time, they reneged on his powers until he felt so strait-jacketed that he resigned.

My business brain says that the principle that the owner, Mike Ashley, wanted introducing is not such a bad thing. The question revolves around whether the manager has the final say on which footballers enter and leave the club. Good, sensitive communication would make the manager feel good, while taking much of the work off his shoulders. It appears that Keagan felt that this was a possible scenario. Then the hierarchy bought a couple of players without him even having heard of them and didn’t buy players he wanted – in those positions that the team was terribly weak. So, he didn’t have the promised strengthening of his team’s profile.

Meanwhile, writers for The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and Sky News presenters ran a line that Keagan is a ‘walker’. That is, that if the going gets tough, he is a coward and leaves. They pointed to the fact that he has left other jobs, including the England job – which, he said, was beyond his capabilities. In the world of organisational management, he is a gem. How many managers can you think of, that decide they are not up to the demands of the job and step down a rung? They should be able to do it with equanimity. Otherwise the Peter Principle prevails – that every one of us will eventually rise to a position in which we find ourselves incompetent. Poor honest Kevin.

My two, now dead, guardians in their Reliant Robin would have had a field day this last week. I can hear them mouthing off about Newcastle being sold to a mafia of effin’ southerners and at least the effin’ Board used to be effin’ Geordie sh**s.

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