THE departure of any football manager – even one who had little say in the make-up of his squad – brings question marks about the futures of those left behind.
This morning the two biggest ones on the playing side hang over the heads of Michael Owen and Joey Barton as the speculation begins on what Kevin Keegan’s departure means for them. In Owen’s case probably very little but in Barton’s it could have great significance.
Even when Keegan was manager at St James’s Park, Owen still did not sign the lucrative contract in front of him. Emotional attachments may play their part (though how close Owen was to the man he criticised in his autobiography is unclear) but financial considerations come first. And despite Newcastle’s claims they offered their striker a pay rise, the terms were not enough. Owen’s agent refused to comment last night but will surely advise him to let his deal run its course and take it from there.
Barton, though, needed Keegan.
Such is his loyalty to the player he had at Manchester City, Keegan may be at Barton’s disciplinary hearing in London today, although he could be forgiven for being there in body but not mind. The Liverpudlian has few other allies in football.
When even Harry Redknapp – more addicted to bargains than a WAG armed with her hubby’s gold card – is at pains to stress he did not want to sign the troubled midfielder at a cut price, you know things are grim.
Sources at the Football Association have suggested Barton could be banned for 15 matches for his training-ground assault on Ousmane Dabo. It could be the start of his ostracism from the game.
Keegan’s successor might adopt the new manager’s mantra that his players start with a clean sheet and what happened in the past is forgotten, but owner Mike Ashley’s appetite for forgiveness may have run its course. Sacking the 26-year-old now could backfire legally but ordering the new man to sideline him would not. If United’s failure to find a buyer for him on Monday is anything to go by, Barton could in theory become as rare a sight at football grounds as the boss he left behind.
In football, the talented get plenty of last chances. Barton must hope he has not used all his.