Speaking on the eve of a reunion last weekend with a Liverpool team who produced a nailbiting 4-3 classic which is still mentioned over fourteen years later, plus an “impostor” in the side who goes by the name of Alan Shearer. The Mighty Mouse started with a classic Keegan quote saying:
“Everybody said at the time we couldn’t win the league playing like that. Unfortunately they were proved right.”
“We should have won it, we just couldn’t get over the line. If you look at football now, Barcelona, Man City and Man United are playing like that now. The centre-backs and full-backs bomb on now and I think if we’d won the league like that, then there would be teams playing like that before now. We were ahead of our time.”
Keegan’s claim that his Newcastle United team of the ‘nineties was ahead of Barcelona is somewhat outlandish to say the least. Also, in the case of Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, if anything, been accused of being overly defensive sometimes, and being a quintessetial Italian “defence first” manager this is hardly surprising. Speaking on his approach to the game he once said:
“I like 1-0 wins. When you don’t concede a goal and you have players like Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez or David Silva, you win 90%. I prefer we are boring for two to three matches and we win 1-0”
“I can remember telling John Beresford to defend once and he swore at me so I took him off!”
Well, actually, perhaps it is more similar than I thought after the Tevez affair.
On Barcelona, their current attacking 4-3-3, and style goes back much further than the 1990s. It is well known that the club have had a long tradition of poaching brilliant and innovative attack minded coaches from the Netherlands, mostly Ajax, which started at the beginning of the seventies with the English ex Ajax coach, Vic Buckingham. Next was the man who helped to shape the attacking 4-3-3 formation as we see it today, as well as a concept of “total football” which allowed defenders to “bomb on” and attack as well as defend amongst other things, FIFA’s “Coach of the Century”, Rinus Michels. Barcelona’s current coach, Pep Guardiola, hardly needed Keegan for attacking inspiration, as he had Johan Cruyff to teach him how to play the kind the exciting, attacking “tiqui-taka” style he evolved at the club when Guardiola was the midfield anchor of Cruyff’s “Dream Team” of the ‘nineties. All of those managers, plus further Dutch imports such as Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard also won trophies with their attacking methods, something which Keegan never quite maneged on Tyneside or elsewhere.
If anything, the ex Newcastle United manager who had most influence on the Barcelona we see today was undoubtedly Sir Bobby Robson. Besides winning rhree trophies there in a year, It was Robson who was manager there when Carles Rexach found a tiny young player from Argentina called Lionel Messi, who is doing a fairly respectable job in Barcelona’s attack nowadays.
Finally, as for Manchester United, whilst a pragmatic Alex Ferguson has evolved their playing style somewhat over the yeats with an influx of players from all over the world, it still relies on patience and a solid defence, something which Keegan’s side never had.
For those of you who still don’t know the score of the reunion match was Liverpool 4 – 1 Newcastle United.