WHEN THE editor of last season's European Football Who's Who chose one quote to define the philosophy of Kevin Keegan - then the manager of England - he cannot have imagined precisely how apt it would prove.
"I always thought managers were more involved," Keegan said, "but, when it comes down to it, I just sit there and watch like everyone else."
By the time England had lost 1-0 to Germany last October, in Wembley's last game, those words were not so much the epitome of an enraptured fan- turned-manager, but a sad admission of inability. Keegan went on to say as much himself. "I've given it my best shot but I have not been good enough," he said. "I think the players need someone who can get that extra little bit out of them than I can't. I think you need that at this level and I haven't been able to do that. Nobody is to blame but me."
Brutally honest, unfailingly passionate, but technically flawed and temperamental. As Keegan takes up his latest appointment in a career that has been characterised by glorious arrivals and premature departures, the question Manchester City fans will be asking is: "Which Kevin Keegan will we see?"
His strengths - and he has them, for all the damning evidence of his ill-fated tenure in charge of England - are his passion for the game, his relentless optimism ("That would have been a goal if it wasn't saved," is a typical line), and his ability to motivate players.
An amiable, articulate communicator, his insistence on attacking play, even at the cost of goals conceded, has also won plenty of admirers. One Manchester City supporter, talking on a radio phone- in yesterday, almost seemed convincing when he opined: "Keegan might not be the best tactician, but at least we can look forward to lots of goals." Another provided balance: "We're an unstable club, and now we've got an unstable manager."
Keegan's weaknesses emerge when the chips are down, when there is no money to spend (not a problem he encountered too often at Newcastle and Fulham), when something extra is needed to turn a match around or hold on for the points. The abiding memories of Euro 2000 see Keegan standing helplessly on the touchline during the matches against Portugal and Romania. In the former, England contrived to lose 3-2 after being 2-0 up. In the latter a 2-1 lead at half-time was squandered 3-2 at the death. Was Keegan seen scrabbling frantically to decide how to tighten up, who to bring on, what changes needed to be made? He was not. He stood and shouted "keep believing".
There is also the question of commitment. Football by nature is a transient profession but Keegan has chopped and changed more than most. Only twice in his 33-year football career has he remained at a club for anywhere near as long as the five years that his new contract at Maine Road will theoretically span.
The first time was as a player at Liverpool, when the glory days of the 1970s brought three League Championships, an FA Cup, a European Cup and two Uefa Cups. The second time was as a manager, at Newcastle. After an ignominious start - he walked out almost as soon as being appointed, claiming: "It's not like it said in the brochure" - he kept Newcastle in the old Second Division and then won promotion to the Premiership. …