MOST of the revelations contained in Kevin Keegan’s forthcoming autobiography will be nothing new, but as the extracts that have been serialised in The Times over the weekend prove, that doesn’t mean they won’t still have the capacity to shock.

Mike Ashley’s wretched ownership of Newcastle United might be a hot topic again at the moment, but the current regime’s mismanagement stretches back for more than a decade.

Today’s serialisation focused on the events that led to Keegan’s resignation in August 2008, and honed in on the outrageous double signing of Xisco and Ignacio Gonzalez that persuaded the Newcastle legend he could no longer work for the club he loved. The dispute would eventually end up in court, and by the end of the season, the Magpies had been relegated. As Keegan put it succinctly, “lives were irrevocably changed for the sake of some South American backscratching”.

The saga began with Keegan being informed that Newcastle were signing Xisco and Gonzalez, even though he, as manager, had never heard of either player. The plan had been hatched by Dennis Wise, hopelessly out of his depth in the role of executive director (football), and Tony Jiminez, operating under the ridiculously grand title of vice-president (player recruitment).

Wise insisted that both players would be valuable additions, and told Keegan to use the internet to check them out. “It did not say much for the player (Gonzalez) that Dennis had texted me the wrong name, and my initial search on the internet came up with nothing,” writes Keegan, “I had to go back to Dennis to find out the correct spelling.”

So far, so farcical. Keegan eventually found the right player, and quickly concluded he was nowhere near good enough to play for Newcastle. He was told to watch a few YouTube clips. “It looked as if he was playing in a local park in some of the games,” Keegan says.

Xisco was every bit as bad, yet as he was preparing his side to face Arsenal, Keegan learned that both players had arrived in England. Xisco, who was going to cost £5.7m, had agreed a wage of £60,000-a-week. Gonzalez was set to earn £26,000-a-week, well over £1m-a-year. Given the constraints that Rafael Benitez is having to work under at the moment, the level of financial profligacy is eye-watering.

The Northern Echo: FORGOTTEN MAN: Xisco


Keegan, an old-fashioned football man with old-fashioned principles, could not work out why the deals were being pushed through. Quickly, though, the rationale became clear.

“Dennis explained it was a favour for two agents – Paco Casal, a Uruguayan, and Marcelo Lombilla, an Argentinian – who had helped us get (Fabricio) Coloccini and (Jonas) Gutierrez, and that if we took the hit on this one occasion and agreed to ‘park’ Gonzalez, they would look upon us favourably in the future,” writes Keegan.

“‘You don’t even have to play this guy’, Dennis said. ‘We want to keep the agent sweet. If you don’t want the player to train with you, you can put him in the academy. And if you don’t like him, we can get rid of him in January’. Mike (Ashley) had been filled in and the owner’s view was that Gonzalez didn’t even have ‘to set foot in St James’ Park’.”

All of that came out in court during Keegan’s subsequent claim for constructive dismissal, but reading his words again, it is impossible not to be shocked at just how brazen Newcastle’s attempts to manipulate the transfer system were.

To be clear, and Keegan makes this point on a number of occasions, none of what was going on was illegal, indeed it did not even break any footballing rules. It was grossly unethical though, not to mention a staggering waste of immense sums of money that should have been invested for the good of the football club.

It was also a complete betrayal of Keegan’s trust, something the former England international could not countenance.

“I knew immediately that I couldn’t have anything to do with a deal of that nature,” writes Keegan. “I wanted to save the club from the possibility of being investigated. I wanted to protect the people around me and I wanted to look after my own reputation.

“I didn’t like the word ‘parked’ and I dreaded to think of the repercussions if what the club were doing reached the newspapers. It would have been a scandal and, as far as I was concerned, it was not one I could defend.”

The Northern Echo: Timeline: Kevin Keegan, 1992 - 2008


Keegan resigned, and eventually won his constructive dismissal claim at the International Dispute Resolution Centre, with the three-man panel throwing out Ashley and his fellow directors’ counter-claim of £2m for an alleged breach of contract.

“I felt vindicated,” writes Keegan. “It was an enormous sense of relief; finally I could get on with my life and start putting it all behind me. But I was sad, too, that it had gone that far and appalled by some of the stuff that had come out.”

In some respects, this is ancient history. Keegan freely admits he has no desire to return to St James’ Park while the current regime remains in power, and both Xisco and Gonzalez have long departed, the latter via a 14-game loan spell at Greek side Levadiakos after he failed to break through at Valencia.

Wise continues to pontificate about Newcastle in his role as a pundit with Sky Sports though, and the central figure in the whole sorry saga still remains.

Ashley returned to public view at the weekend, laughing and joking alongside Lee Charnley in the directors’ box at Selhurst Park, and his decisions still shape Newcastle’s fortunes.

Rafael Benitez, who must sympathise with so much of what Keegan has written, hopes Ashley is “ready to do something positive” now he has finally watched a game. As Keegan’s reminiscences prove, though, the Newcastle owner hardly has a proven track record for astute footballing decisions.

  • Kevin Keegan’s new autobiography, “My Life In Football”, is published by Macmillan on October 4, priced £20.