Kevin Keegan's Newcastle: The best team to never win the Premier League

It is safe to say that, as of this writing, the English Premier League is the best league competition in the world right now and has been for quite some time now. The competition is constantly raking up more money and the best coaches and players in the world are joining the league on a regular basis.

Newcastle United flag
However, this is not to say that the league didn't have a lot to offer during its earlier seasons in the mid-90s and one of the biggest selling points in that timeframe was Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United team. Due to the fact they never won the league, something that definitely helped Blackburn Rovers in the 90s since they won the Premier League in the 1994/95 season, this Newcastle team has never gotten the credit they deserve as one of the best sides in this competition's history.

Well, today we are going to talk about The Entertainers, as they were fondly called during those years. Let's begin.

Formation of the squad

By the time Kevin Keegan, legendary English football player with memorable spells in Liverpool and Hamburg, came back to the game to take over as Newcastle United manager (first coaching job in his career), the Magpies were in a massive problem. They were sitting in the 23rd place in the Second Division in the 1991/92 season, about to get relegated to the Third Division for the first time in their history.

Now, it is safe to say that Keegan is often heralded as the main cause of Newcastle's upward trajectory in the 90s and he is extremely influential, but the impact of then-new owner Sir John Hall cannot be understated. Hall took over as owner after an arduous process during pretty much the same time as Keegan and they clashed at first, with the former player quitting the job for a couple of days, but they managed to settle and work together.

Andy Cole
Andy Cole - one of Newcastleä's most important players back then
This is very important because Keegan was allowed a good budget to transform the squad, thus giving the chance to develop some young talents, such as Steve Howley or Alan Thompson, and bringing in important players such as John Beresford, Barry Venison and Rob Lee. And of course, Andy Cole, who went on to score 12 goals in 11 games to secure the team's Second Division title in the 1992/93 and get promoted to the Premier League.

The team would evolve in every subsequent season, building up from a very solid third place in the 1993/94 season, thus qualifying to the UEFA Cup (first time the St. James Park stadium tasted European football since the 90s), and playing a brand of football that was both effective and exciting. Thus, The Entertainers were born.

The 1995/96 season

If every good football team has a season where they reached their peak performance, then the 1995/96 season was that for Keegan's Newcastle side.

That season in particular seemed like an ideal moment to capitalize on the league title. United lost the title the previous season to Blackburn Rovers and there was a possibility for Newcastle to win it this time. In fact, Hall invested heavily in the market that season and key players during the season were bought, such as Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Warren Barton and Shaka Hislop.

Oftentimes, a lot of teams tend to live up to the expectations that were set before the season, but the Magpies were definitely delivering and had a very good first half that year. In fact, by mid-January they were sitting 12 points ahead of Manchester United and had bought Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla, who had a brilliant spell with Parma in Serie A, to bolster an already powerful attack.

However, this is the breaking point for this project. Sir Alex Ferguson, United's legendary manager, started some mind-games during the season, claiming that Newcastle were a small club, and Keegan, live on a radio show, went on a tirade, saying that he would love to win the league and defeat United. This tirade by Keegan has become a classic moment in Premier League history.

Sadly, his team couldn't back his words. While United were winning games left and right, Newcastle's form started to wane. This was due to physical and mental exhaustion, but some people claim that trying to add Asprilla in the middle of the season hurt the team's balance and there is an argument to be made there.

One of the greatest moments in Premier League history (and saddest for Newcastle supporters) was when they lost 4-3 to Liverpool in Anfield Road, which was another key point where their title charge started to wane.

By the time Newcastle lost 1-0 to Manchester United in St. James Park, mainly due to an Éric Cantona goal and a legendary performance by goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, the season was pretty much over for them. The team never truly recovered from this and United won the league.

Aftermath

Newcastle would try to challenge for the title in the coming years, even signing Blackburn Rovers striker Alan Shearer (who also happened to be a lifelong supporter of the club) for a world record fee in the summer of 1996, but the reality is that something broke within The Entertainers in that 1995/96 season. To a lot of Premier League experts, that was their year to win and they fell apart.

However, it is hard to argue that Kevin Keegan's time as their manager wasn't their best in Premier League history. They were constantly fighting for the top positions in the league and they were doing so with a strong core of players. Yes, players like Andy Cole went on to join other clubs, but that only added to the achievement of being in the first couple of positions for a lot of seasons.

Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. That tends to happen in football.
Nathan Annan is from South Africa and loves to write, and above all about his favorite sport, football. Nathan's interest in football was sparked late but after watching a few matches in his hometown of Johannesburg during the 2010 South Africa World Cup, he was hooked.