Following on from yesterday’s first part of the Robbie Keane biography, Willie Gannon concludes the journey taken by Ireland’s record goal scorer.
The 2007-08 season was a hugely successful one for Keane. Not only did he win his first major trophy but he also picked up the Spurs Player of the Year award for the third time, making him the only player in the clubs history to achieve the feat.
With Keane and Berbatov up top, having claimed their first trophy in nine years, and with a growing belief amongst the players, Spurs was expected to challenge for the top four the following season. But some teams had other ideas.
Liverpool and Manchester United courted Keane and Berbatov respectively, and the pair were sold for a combined fee of almost £51 million as the transfer window closed. Their sales effectively crippled Ramos and the team, and by October, the Spaniard was replaced by Harry Redknapp.
Keane’s move to Anfield came about after the Irishman met Phil Thompson at an after-match dinner, and within hours, Liverpool and Rafael Benitez were looking at possible ways to bring him to Anfield.
The major spanner in the works was that Gareth Barry was Rafa’s first choice signing and having limited funds to spend he wanted to sign the midfielder first. A major problem arose when Aston Villa demanded £18 million for the player when Liverpool and Rick Parry would only go as far as £15 million plus Steve Finnan.
With Parry in charge of negotiations and the purse strings and in receipt of Benitez’s proposed shopping list, he next approached Robbie Keane.
A protracted transfer saga where Spurs made claims against the Reds tapping up the player ended in late July when Keane signed on the dotted line, and in doing so, he was handed the famous No. 7.
He started 23 games of his 34 games in red (including friendlies), but only completed the 90 in five of those. His first goal for Liverpool came after a disappointing 11 games, and overall his competitive record reads played 28, scored 7 (one : 4).
From these simple stats, you can see that he was always looking over his shoulder to be taken off, and as time progressed, it became apparent to all that Rafael Benitez was waging a war behind the scenes at Anfield against Rick Parry, and that Robbie Keane was the stick he used to beat him with.
Keane has always been a player who relies heavily on confidence, and while it is fair to say that he never reached the heights expected of him at Liverpool, it is also fair to say that he was also never allowed to reach those heights.
His career, already at a low, hit the lowest point possible when Benitez dropped him from the FA Cup squad to face Merseyside rivals Everton. It was clear to everyone that Keane was unwanted at Liverpool.
The sudden injury to Jermain Defoe, a recent re-signing for Harry Redknapp at Spurs, opened up a position that needed to be filled immediately if the Lilywhites were to maintain their early progress under their new manager.
From there the negotiation were easy, and within six months of leaving White Hart Lane, Robbie Keane was back.
Redknapp immediately restored Keane to his previous role of vice-captain and his return, while he kept the impetus moving in the right direction, he could only guide his new club to eighth. However, Spurs’ final finishing position was to prove to be a huge advantage. Without European football to contend with they mounted a concerted challenge for the Promised Land that is the Champions League.
This was to prove a problem for Keane who was moved onto Celtic just six months after returning.
During the close season, Harry Redknapp signed Peter Crouch and partnered him up front with Jermain Defoe. This new forward line gave Spurs a very defined way of playing that relied upon swift attacks and the two strikers playing as high as possible.
Keane, just simply did not fit in with Redknapp’s philosophy or tactics. He likes to drop off and instigate attacks and play a part in the build up whereas both Defoe and Crouch are entirely focused on the penalty box.
On top of not playing, Keane then organised a Christmas trip to Dublin for the Spurs team without his Redknapp’s knowledge and just days after his manager had gone public stating that his players would not be having a party.
This was to prove a major stumbling block in their relationship and with the trust between them seemingly broken, Keane found himself out in the cold at Spurs.
Seeing that he was not going to play, Keane’s form dipped to its lowest level, 11 goals from 41 games (one : 4) and rumours of a further breakdown in communication between the player and a manager began to surface. Having enjoyed something of a miserable 12 months, few Premier League teams were willing to take a chance on the player so the striker moved north of the border to Celtic in February 2010.
There, he scored 12 goals from 16 games, but it was not enough to see the Celts overtake Rangers who went on to win the league.
Keane was now in the middle of his worst period as a footballer. Assailed from all sides, both at home and in England his form and confidence hit their lowest ebb.
However, as always, somehow Giovanni Trapattoni always seemed to bring the best out of his captain and without doubt Ireland offered respite from club football. His goal scoring record for his country kept on course and in the time since Trap had taken over (32/79) Keane’s record read 43 goals from 99 matches.
He returned back to Spurs who had just qualified for the Champions League for the first time having slipped down the pecking order considerably. The move was even further down the ladder when Rafael van der Vaart joined the club from Real Madrid.
As the Dutchman was more midfielder than forward, he was able to slot perfectly into the position that Keane craved so much, the link behind the striker and once again he was surplus to requirements and was only used sparingly before he moved to relegation strugglers West Ham.
The move started well with a début goal. But less than one week later he got injured and was forced to miss the next month of action and with it his fitness dropped considerably.
With West Ham suffering the ignominy of relegation, the proposed permanent transfer of Keane to the Hammers never materialised. From his nine games involved at Upton Park, he only finished two, and he only managed to score one other goal and that came in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa. (one : 4.5)
Keane has since returned to Spurs, somewhat with his tail between his legs, but that has not stopped him from continuing his phenomenal international goal scoring record. In 2011, during his time at West Ham, he scored a superb six goals in four games to bring his international tally into record waters 51/108.
In the last of these games in June, Keane played on with pain-killing injections for a damaged groin that had never fully recovered from the initial tear in February and still managed to score twice and inspire his team to a vital win. One other little record was achieved that night as he joined Jurgen Klinsmann, Bobby Moore and Zinedine Zidane on 108 caps.
When you stand back and look at Keane’s achievements you can’t help but be impressed. No, he is no Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes and cannot boast about his trophy haul. Nor is he anything like Matthew Le Tissier who never won anything but is revered in every football conversation that whispers his name.
But in some ways he is more than they are. Keane in many ways is boxer-like in his career.
He is not a great footballer, he would never worry the very best of defenders, nor is he a creative genius in the mould of Rafael van der Vaart or Teddy Sheringham, and neither is he the best footballer his country has ever produced.
But one thing he has in world class amounts is honesty.
Honesty is something fans do not concern themselves with. It is hard to measure, hard to understand and even harder to see. But it is something that every professional respects profoundly.
However, one look at Robbie Keane’s career and the one facet of his personality that stands out is his honesty. He never gives up, he never quits and he always tries his hardest.
Sure, some pundits may point back to him choosing Wolves over Liverpool as the pivotal moment in his career. Had he chosen the Reds, one wonders if the obvious rough edges to his game would have been shaved off. Would he have turned into a better player? Would he have formed a fearsome partnership with Michael Owen? Would he have scored 51 times in 108 games for Ireland?
Ifs, buts and maybes.
Keane is good player and a better pro. And for this reason, he is taken for granted so often. Whereas players with better skills and lesser attitudes moan and groan and make things public, he prefers to weather the frequent storms and win managers and fans over with honest performances.
He might not be flavour of the month at Tottenham Hotspur any more, and he may never play again at White Hart Lane, but he will step into any breach if Harry Redknapp was to come calling.
His future, most probably, lies away from Spurs. And while some managers may focus on the last two years of his club career and decide to give him a wide berth, they may be better served taking a closer look at his overall career to see that he can still make a telling contribution to the game at the highest level.
As unlikely as it seems now, Spurs may yet hold onto Keane next season. His rich past ensures that he will be mentioned in boardrooms up and down the Premier League, but it would come as no surprise to see him move across London to join Fulham and their new manager, Martin Jol.
At 30, and with the style of footballer that he is, Keane could yet have another four or five seasons as a Premier League footballer left in him. Will someone take a chance on him? Or will he be taken for granted and left on the shelf?
Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Keane won’t go down without a fight.