Steve Harper, the Easington-born goalkeeper is the only player now at Newcastle to have played during both Keeganâ€™s spells as manager at Newcastle United.
Steve Harper – been at Newcastle for 15 years
Harper was just 18 when he first joined Newcastle from Seaham Red Star in 1993, when Kevin was the manager.
Steve has been talking about Keeganâ€™s impact the second time around and says itâ€™s the same as the first time Kevin managed the club â€“ his motivational powers are still sky high.
Steve talked to the Journal this morning:
â€œThey all â€“ all 27 of them â€“ have their particular strengths but the thing about Kevin is his motivational qualities,â€ â€œHe just seems to walk into a room and gets 20% more out of players.â€â€œThere is not a great deal different but the training is probably more intense and high tempo. Players are enjoying training and working hard now.â€
â€œI can remember the days at Maiden Castle when there were four or five thousand circling the pitch and it was real high tempo.â€ â€œThe Barry Venisons and Paul Bracewells were getting stuck in and it is like that again.â€
â€œThe training is competitive and there is an edge to it â€“ not a nasty edge but a real intensity which has been missing for a while. Those days will never be repeated. I remember the first day I trained with John Burridge, I thought I was going to die we worked so hard.â€
While Keegan is renowned as a master motivator, while he was manager of England he took some hits with his tactical abilities, and ever since then Kevin has been stuck with not understanding tactics too well. Nothing could be further from the truth of course and Harper believes his manager deserves credit for his tactical capabilities:
â€œKevin Keegan is a very good communicator with players,â€
â€œHe is always walking around speaking to players. Some managers can be quite distant whereas Kevin very much communicates with his players whether they are in the team, out of the team or injured.”
“It makes them feel part of it and that helps him get the best out of his players.â€
For last monthâ€™s trip to Birmingham City, he made a monumental shift in tactics by changing to a 4-3-3 formation so he could play his 3 top strikers together. It has paid off big time.
Of course the press have not been too quick to compliment Kevin on that move â€“ theyâ€™re probably disappointed Newcastle are starting to win again, and win big.
â€œYou have got to give the manager and coaching staff credit for changing the system,â€ he says. â€œIt has proved a masterstroke. We had some tough fixtures and were conceding and not really threatening, then we changed the system.â€
â€œPlaying with that threat up front means we are not only scoring but I think teams are worried about those three and maybe not attacking as much as they were beforehand.â€
â€œWe must keep this run going for the last five games, get to the end of the season and then rebuild. We have quality players but we need more depth of the quality players.â€
Things have not been easy for Steve Harper at Newcastle and fifteen years after his arrival he has 106 appearances for the club and today will be only his 97th start for the club.
We have often wondered why he didnâ€™t move on, because he could certainly hold down a Premier League starting position at some other club.
â€œYeah, there would be times when I thought â€˜what ifâ€™ but you try not to look back,â€ he says. â€œThat is why it is important to maximize it now.â€
â€œI came in a very raw 18 year-old, went on loan for two or three years, had a couple of bad injuries. Then I came back, had three or four years when Shay Given and myself were neck and neck, in and out of the side.”
“Then there were three or four years when Shay was in the team, did not get injured and was outstanding and those were the three or four worst years of my life.
â€œI had not played enough games for people to come and take me. It was very much a case of out of sight, out of mind. I knocked on the door of all those 27 managers and asked to go out on loan constantly but was not allowed. Just because I did not shout my mouth off in the Press, people associated that with a lack of ambition.
â€œThose three or four years were the hardest part of my career. People say how did I get through it? I honestly do not know.â€
The goalkeeper spot at Newcastle will be interesting in the next 3 seasons under Keegan because we have both Fraser Forster and Tim Krul, who are both excellent 20 year-old goalkeepers, and will be pushing for the first team.
We’d love to see Steve Harper at the club when he finally hangs up his gloves, he would make an excellent coach (goalkeeper coach?), because he’s such a positive guy and an excellent communicator and so down to earth.
And of course he’s a local lad and very good friends too with Alan Shearer, and the two of them used to room together on away games when Alan was at the club. Of course Steve is a fully qualified referee too, and has often talked about a career in refereeing once he completes his playing career.
Right now Steve is playing a big part in Keegan’s revival of Newcastle United, and he’s doing just great.
Comments very welcome.