WHILE Kevin Keegan will never win a poll to find the most naturally gifted footballer of all time, he is regularly cited as the player who extracted the most value from his God-given talents.

So it is ironic that, as a manager, Keegan will be remembered for failing to work out how to use the evident abilities at his disposal to achieve success at the highest level.

By leaving Manchester City 14 months before his contract was due to expire, the two-time European Footballer of the Year has written a final chapter into his managerial memoirs that is starkly similar to much of what has gone before.

He might have entertained and enthralled on Tyneside, and he might have enjoyed short-term success with England when Paul Scholes' double beat Scotland in their own backyard to set up qualification for Euro 2000.

But, ultimately, Keegan's managerial career will forever be associated with a series of far less appealing acts. In the cold light of day, whenever the going has got tough, it is he who has been going.

Ironically, after calling a halt to his playing career in 1984, Keegan went eight years without showing the slightest hint of an interest in management.

The only clubs he was interested in were the ones his caddy was carrying around Spain until, in 1992, a phone call from Sir John Hall brought him back into the game.

His beloved Newcastle were tumbling into the old Third Division until Keegan saved the day by engineering a dramatic last-gasp escape at Leicester.

Everything he has achieved since pales into insignificance compared to that win at Filbert Street. Without it, Newcastle would have been lucky to survive and Keegan would have walked away from management never to return.

Instead, Keegan won promotion to the Premiership 12 months later and embarked on an unforgettable adventure that almost earned the club its first domestic title since 1927.

His side's entertaining style earned admirers throughout the land, while his televised attack at Sir Alex Ferguson - "I'd love it if we beat them, love it" - proved he had lost a psychological battle but won a contest for hearts and minds.

His passionate nature seemed to be the perfect match for a club that commands a unique level of devotion but, in January 1997, Keegan's Newcastle dream died.

With his side suffering a downturn that suggested a major overhaul was required, Keegan opted simply to walk away.

He re-emerged as chief operating officer at Fulham later that year and, after sacking his friend Ray Wilkins, took over as manager soon after.

With the help of chairman Mohammed Al Fayed, he set the London club on the path to where they are today but, when England came calling, he was quickly off again.

Initially installed as a temporary replacement for Glenn Hoddle, Keegan was appointed full-time England coach in May 1999 and kicked off his reign with an impressive 3-1 win over Poland.

Things went rapidly downhill from there though and, after a bitterly disappointing Euro 2000 in which England were knocked out at the group stage, he resigned after his side had lost at home to Germany in Wembley's final game.

It was then that Keegan seemed to accept that the force of will that had seen him succeed as a player was not going to earn the same plaudits in a different role.

"I told the players I don't think I can find that little bit extra you need at this level," he admitted after the game.

That looked like being that, until Keegan was appointed at Manchester City in May 2001.

He achieved some success, guiding the club out of the First Division and back into the Premiership, but was unable to establish them as anything other than a mid-table top-flight force.

This season they have struggled to even be that and, with speculation over his future continuing to mount, he this week left the City of Manchester Stadium for the final time.

He always claimed his job at City would be his final involvement in the game.

If it is, it will provide a fittingly frustrating end to a managerial career that started with a delayed entrance but will be remembered for string of premature exits.