Kevin Keegan has explained the story of how two Newcastle transfers led to him leaving as manager.
Keegan returned for a second stint as Newcastle manager in 2008, having almost led the Magpies to the Premier League title in his first spell in charge.
The former England boss was appointed in January 2008, and resigned from the post that September, stating that “a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want.”
The 67-year-old has shed further light on that claim a decade on, with The Times serialising extracts from his upcoming autobiography.
Keegan begins with the story of his final game, a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, during which television cameras picked up owner Mike Ashley downing a pint in the away end.
‘It wasn’t Mike’s beer-guzzling that upset me that day,’ he says. ‘It was the fact that Tony Jimenez, the executive who had been put in charge of Newcastle’s transfer business, had informed me we were spending £5.7 million on a Spanish player called Xisco whom nobody from the club had ever seen play. On the same day the Xisco bombshell was dropped, I had also found out a Uruguayan by the name of Ignacio González was joining us as a “favour” for two South American agents.
‘It was on the morning of the game that Dennis Wise rang to ask me to go online and check out González. Dennis said he had heard great things but admitted he had never actually seen him play. Further enquiries revealed that nobody, in fact, from Newcastle had ever seen this guy kick a ball.
‘Nor did it say much for the player that Dennis had texted me the wrong name, and my initial search on the internet came up with nothing. I had to go back to Dennis to find out the correct spelling. But I did as he asked.
‘I logged on again, typed in González’s name and eventually found him. I looked at his background, his age and what he had done in his career, and it didn’t need a great deal of investigation to realise this player would be out of his depth in the higher echelons of the Premier League.
‘When I rang Dennis to explain it was out of the question, he seemed determined to change my mind. González, he said, was a “great player” and our contacts in South America meant we had the chance to get him on a season-long loan. He was adamant we should give him a go and suggested that if I clicked on YouTube I might find some footage to change my opinion.
‘It wasn’t long before my worst suspicions were confirmed and I had a tip-off that González and Xisco had already arrived in England. One was in London, I was told, and the other was in the North East. The two deals were going through, and it didn’t make me feel any better to learn about the amount of money the club intended to throw away in the process.
‘Xisco alone was costing £5.7 million as well as a salary of £60,000 a week. He was 22, which was a better age than González, but when I checked out his background it was unremarkable stuff again. He had been at Deportivo La Coruña ‘B’, the club’s reserve set-up, and then moved up to the seniors, playing 44 times in three years. It had earned him a call-up to Spain’s under-21s, but it was still absurd to expect him to play in front of 50,000-plus people at St James’ Park.
‘González had been offered a lower salary, at £26,000 a week, but that still worked out close to £1 million over the season, and a very strange deal had been cooked up whereby he was actually signing for Valencia, a big club with their own network of agents, and within 24 hours we were getting him on loan. What was all that about? It was an unusual arrangement, to say the least, and I didn’t like the look of it one bit.’
Keegan then says that he phoned Wise on the day he resigned as Newcastle manager, and discovered more about the deals.
‘When I spoke to Wise on the telephone that day, it was the first time he explained the real reasons why the González loan was being done. Dennis explained it was a favour for two agents — Paco Casal, a Uruguayan, and Marcelo Lombilla, an Argentinian — who had helped us get Coloccini and Gutiérrez, and that if we took the hit on this one occasion and agreed to “park” González, they would look upon us favourably in the future.
‘“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 had been filled in and the owner’s view was that González didn’t even have “to set foot in St James’ Park”.
‘I thought Dennis was kidding at first. He liked a laugh and I genuinely thought he might be joking. When I realised he was actually being serious, I knew immediately that I couldn’t have anything to do with a deal of that nature. 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.
‘Dennis called it a “favour”. A favour? As favours go, it was going to cost Newcastle a fortune. Both players were going to earn seven-figure salaries, and in Xisco’s case it was upwards of £3 million a year. Casal pocketed €250,000 from Valencia as his slice of the [González] deal. It must have been the easiest money he had ever made and, laughably, González’s loan deal had an option to buy him for £8 million at the end of the season.
‘Newcastle were not breaking any rules but it looked terrible, and left us open to all sorts of questions.’