“When we traveled from London to Newcastle, we had five or six hours to kill on the bus. On the way, Steve Watson used to bring videos and comics from Viz. Even though we didn't understand everything, Kevin and the whole team were always laughing. On the way back, before getting on the road, Kevin used to stop the bus at a gas station, buy some drinks from his own pocket and bring them back to the team: red wine, white wine, beer, water, soft drinks. So when we passed a certain place on the M1, he would buy us fish and chips. "
Philippe Albert loved Kevin Keegan and not just because of the chips. As we chat around the kitchen table at his home near Charleroi, Belgium, Albert remains enchanted by the Englishman's warmth and optimism, just as in 1994, when Keegan sold his defender the dream of playing for Newcastle United.
"Keegan was a big part of why all the players came to Newcastle," says Albert. “When you talk to him, you only want one thing: join the club. You do not need to talk about money; He was so charismatic. As a child I watched him on television playing for Liverpool or Hamburg and a few years later I was playing with him. Keegan was a star of the world. Even if I had only played with him for six months, this would be the best time of my life. When I met him, I knew immediately.
A graceful quarterback with a mustache, Albert quickly became a cult hero in Tyneside, fitting perfectly into the side that would become known as The Entertainers. He joined Newcastle for £ 2.6 million on his 27th birthday (wearing the 27th jersey) after some brilliant performances at the 1994 World Cup, in which he helped Belgium in the qualifying goals against the Netherlands. and Germany. Keegan, standing out as a BBC tournament expert, was particularly impressed and a meeting in Leeds – "to avoid the press" – was organized. It took 15 minutes to convince Albert to sign.
We talked a lot about Kevin. Even certain English words Albert uses here, first learned during the early days in Newcastle – "trembling" and "wow" – are taken from Keegan's lexicon: close your eyes and you will hear English saying them. The stories come from Albert, short anecdotal stories that may not define Keegan's tenure as manager of Newcastle, but show how he cared and the lengths he devoted himself to.
"We used to have three or four thousand fans watching the first team training," recalls Albert. “The people were tremendous. Kevin was always the last to take a shower. If he had to sign 800 autographs, he would. Unnamed, but I remember two players wanted to leave right after training. I remember Keegan grabbing them by the neck and saying to them: ‘You come back. Subscribe to these people – they are paying their salary. This is Kevin.
Philippe Albert in action against Arsenal in 1996. Photography: Colorsport / Rex / Shutterstock
If it was a pleasant surprise, Albert was shocked to learn that Newcastle had to report to St James & Park just 90 minutes before a home game and, apart from an attacking philosophy, "there wasn't much tactical instruction. We were told to keep the ball, and the players in front did the rest.
Les (Ferdinand) was the best header of the ball I have ever seen. Better than Alan Shearer. He jumped and floated in the air. Tino (Asprilla) was also a great player. When he wanted to play he could win a game but when he didn't want to play it was like playing with 10 men. This is hard in the Premier League. He was a funny guy: he might not wake up for training, arrive 40 minutes late and, two days later, score three goals against Barcelona in the Champions League. He was different.
Keegan valued the union. “Once a month, usually Monday night, we would go out to eat until reservations. Then some players would go home, others would leave, maybe mingle with the fans. Personally, I always liked Martha's Bar. "
Newcastle was a perfect fit for Albert. The laid-back atmosphere and weather in the northeast suited him – he turned down offers from Juventus and Fiorentina because Italy was too hot and the preseason was too long – and his own working-class education seemed to please him. local.
A shelf in Philippe Albert's house with memories of his time in the Premier League and with Anderlecht. Photo: Judith Jockel / The Guardian
“Day after day, I regularly went out on the street shopping with my wife,” says Albert. "I talked to people – that's how I was raised. People liked that, I think.
“I think that's why I settled in Newcastle so well. I came from the same kind of world. My father worked for 36 years in a metal factory from 14 to 50 years old. We had everything we wanted to be happy, but not a lot of money. We didn't go on vacation because it was impossible financially, but I had no problem with that. It was a normal life.
This is something Albert tried to continue. In 2001, shortly after finishing his football career at Fulham (with Keegan) and later at Charleroi, he began working as a greengrocer at a fruit and vegetable company, where he would work until 2012.
“I would prepare the product for customers. I did it for 11 years and didn't touch the money I made in my football career. Very early, ending late, that's what I wanted: a normal life. I am very proud of it. Otherwise, when you stop football, you do nothing. You have no life.
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Nowadays, along with some television work in Belgium, he keeps busy cleaning horses and preparing the stables for his wife's equestrian business. He looks happy and fulfilled.
Albert's house near Charleroi, coincidentally where Keegan's England played during Euro 2000, is full of Newcastle memorabilia: an aerial photo of St James' Park is the centerpiece of his living room, a small His figurine wearing the black and white kit next to family photos in the hallway. There are many winning medals on display, though none of their time in Newcastle. One defeat, the 4-0 loss to Manchester United at the 1996 Charity Shield, stands out for Albert.
"We've been beaten, hammered," he admits. “We came back from Thailand and Japan in the preseason and honestly we were very tired. Some of his players, like Roy Keane, were professional and said nothing except some of the younger ones were picking up the mickey, ridiculing us.
In the dressing room, Keegan said nothing. But when they arrived at St James & Park at the end of that year, Kevin just handed out the team card and said: Remember Wembley & # 39 ;. That was enough: we went there and won 5-0. ”
Newcastle United FC
That result, and particularly Albert's boldness of Peter Schmeichel for Newcastle's fifth goal, is undoubtedly the best time of the season for Newcastle fans. And moments like this are important, especially if there's no trophy to celebrate.
"It was a good goal," says Albert, smiling. “After the match, Keegan went into the dressing room shaking everyone's hands. He was delighted. They gave us the next day off.
. (tagsToTranslate) Newcastle United (t) Football (t) Sport