DESPITE the increasing influence of Dennis Wise in Newcastle United’s recruitment drive, Kevin Keegan continues to lead from the front as the club intensify their efforts to make their first signing of the summer.
Uncertainty over the hierarchy at St James’s Park and the role of executive director (football) Wise in the recruitment process has been viewed in some quarters as a sign that Keegan’s importance to the club’s summer recruitment drive is on the wane.
But news relayed by Keegan’s lieutenant Terry McDermott that the manager broke off his holiday in New York to talk to potential transfer targets should provide some reassurances of his key role in the recruitment process.
United are not expected to make definitive progress in the market until Euro 2008 reaches its latter stages – a fact illustrated by the presence of priority target Arda in the Turkey team who booked their place in the quarter-finals of the competition last weekend.
Keegan returns from the United States this week, however, and he appears to have lost none of his enthusiasm for the job despite some of the uncertainty that continues to surround the club.
“Even though Kevin’s been away, make no mistake, he’s been on his phone trying his best to bring new players to this club,” said McDermott. “Now we’ll be coming back in this week and we’re looking forward to the start of pre-season. Both myself and Kevin are great believers in a hard pre-season so that the lads are flying when it all kicks off.”
Whoever Keegan and United eventually bring in, his new-look side will face an immediate examination of their credentials when they travel to the peerless European and domestic champions Manchester United.
It is the toughest assignment that Newcastle could possibly have been handed but McDermott believes the opening round of fixtures could be the best time to meet the double winners.
And in an intriguing aside, McDermott clearly believes that if United manage to bring in some of their priority targets they will be competitive against a team that ran eleven goals past them last season in two games. “Man United are a fantastic team and they proved that last year,” he admitted. “But, hopefully with the players we bring in, we will be able to go there and maybe get something. I definitely think that it’s a game to look forward to rather than fear.
“What better place, other than St James’s Park, is there to kick off your season in front of 70,000 fans? If there is a good time to go there then this might be it.”
The importance of a good start was hammered home to the Newcastle coaching staff last season when the team embarked on their seven-match unbeaten run at the end of last season.
McDermott believes hitting the ground running can help the team towards their ultimate goal of achieving Uefa Cup qualification next season.
“It’s always very important to get a good start to build momentum and raise confidence among the lads,” he said.
“It showed last year when we went on our seven-game unbeaten run towards the end of the season what results do for confidence.
“On the flip side of the tough away start we have got some decent games at home which are the ones we have to win.” While United don’t expect to begin brokering any deals until Keegan returns from holiday this week, progress is expected on the deal that could lead to James Milner’s departure.
Aston Villa and Liverpool are rivals for the winger’s signature, and news that Reds midfielder Danny Guthrie has told friends he expects to join Newcastle has increased speculation that Milner is Anfield-bound.
But reuniting with Martin O’Neill, who he played under while on loan at Villa, also appeals to Milner as he considers his options.