SIR ALEX FERGUSON AND KEVIN KEEGAN The season of face-offs , fledglings and the Fergie mind games . RAAKESH NATRAJ
In the era of megalomaniac, uber-rich footballers, it is a tad tough on one's fancy to imagine two gentlemen, dressed in plush, demure black, hair more grey than bistre, standing quite apart from the action, deciding the course of a team's title push.
With only a handful of matches left in the 1995-96 edition of the English Premier League, Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United were a whopping 14-points ahead of Manchester United and looked all set to be the third team to claim the crown.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team was under the gun as the departure of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis the previous season left an apparently trophy-sized hole in Manchester United's season. A bunch of home-grown teenage talent including the likes of the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were deputised to fill in.
As the title slipped steadily out of reach, the press went to town on the badgered manager.
“You can't win anything with kids” was commentator Alan Hensen's famous verdict.
As far as quotes go, Hensen would be famously put to shame soon by Keegan as the red devils reeled in the league leaders' match after match.
The yawning chasm soon became a minor puddle as the Manchester United machinery, run by Fergie's fledglings, gained momentum. With Sir Alex Ferguson leveraging every inch of media space to get Keegan's goat, the rankling paid off in spectacular fashion as the magpies' boss lost his cool on television. Screaming “I'd love it if we beat them (Manchester United)! Love it!” at a national audience, the toon gaffer watched on as his team's title-run imploded in the next few weeks.
A frantic final day of the season saw Newcastle draw their match against Tottenham while United triumphed against iddlesbrough to take the title to Old Trafford yet again. Keegan's outburst was voted the ‘Quote of the Decade' and he later renewed his rivalry against Sir Alex and Manchester United when he took charge of city rivals Manchester City in 2001.