Keegan has high hopes

SUN WIRE SERVICES

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Kevin Keegan returned to one of the hottest seats in soccer yesterday and promised to make Newcastle United a title contender again.

Back at his spiritual Newcastle home after 11 years, the former England coach immediately sent a warning to the Premier League's top four -- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool -- that he will break their stranglehold on trophies.

He also opened the door for former star striker Alan Shearer to return and form the fans' dream double-act.

"It's possible to win a cup, it's possible for this club to break into the top four -- not overnight but it's possible," Keegan told more than 200 reporters at St. James Park after signing a 31/2-year contract. "We're one of the few clubs that can break into there -- we're a challenge to them."

One decision Keegan will have to make concerns defender David Edgar of Kitchener.

The 20-year-old, Newcastle's reserve team captain, has made the senior bench nine times this season, getting on the field once as a substitute. He finds himself in soccer limbo, not seeing first-team action but so close to the squad that he is deemed too valuable to do without.

Edgar was hoping to be loaned to another club to get playing time, but Newcastle's roster is thin. Some players are competing at the African Cup of Nations, and Nicky Butt, Alan Smith and Emre are serving suspensions.

TALK TOO MUCH FOR RAFA

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is finding it hard to get his team to focus because of speculation about the future of the club.

Co-owner Tom Hicks has admitted he interviewed Juergen Klinsmann as a potential replacement for Benitez, while several papers have reported that Hicks and partner George Gillett Jr., who also owns the Montreal Canadiens, are considering selling up.

The record 18-time English champions are fourth in the Premier League, 12 points behind leaders Manchester United and Arsenal, and Benitez says the off-field problems are a contributing factor.

"You cannot say that things off the pitch do not affect people, it is really difficult," Benitez said yesterday.

BRIEFLY

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva agreed to a request from Bolivia and will ask FIFA to reconsider its ban on international games at high altitude ... Hertha Berlin is close to signing teenage American midfielder Bryan Arguez.


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