Spurs fan Ronan Farrell looks at what the coming season has in store for Robbie Keane.
A little over a year ago, having finished the season with his first winners medal in club football, Robbie Keane secured a move to a title-chasing Liverpool side, a team that he had supported as a child back home in Tallaght, and a team that would hopefully allow him to display his talents on the biggest stage in club football – the Champions League. The latter was important for Keane’s international future, with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni welcoming the opportunity for his star striker to test himself against Europe’s best.
Keane explained the move thus: “joining Liverpool is a lifelong dream of mine and one I couldn’t let pass me by”. The transfer was acrimonious at board level, with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy claiming his hand was forced by Liverpool and Keane, and with accusations of tapping-up made against Liverpool and Manchester United in their pursuit of Keane’s strike partner Dimitar Berbatov. Levy’s words fed some discontent among Tottenham supporters, with many questioning just how genuine Keane could be when a month previous to handing in his transfer request Keane was quoted in the press as saying, “I’m very content with my life and my time at Spurs. I want to play there as long as I’m happy and as long as I’m wanted”.
Keane started slowly at Liverpool, failing to find the net in his first 10 appearances, and showed visible frustration when substituted by Rafa Benitez. His duck was finally broken in October with a goal in a 3-1 win at home to PSV in the Champions League, and was followed shortly after by an away goal in the same competition against Atletico Madrid.
However, it was November before Keane netted in domestic competition, scoring twice in a 3-0 win over West Brom. Keane suffered from the absence of Fernando Torres through injury, and in his absence could not produce the goals usually delivered by the Spaniard.
The Ireland skipper has always scored his goals in bursts, and a barren period at the start of his Liverpool career was not that unusual, but with his manager’s transfer plans disrupted during the summer the pressure on Keane to deliver on his price tag continued to grow, and his form proved erratic at best. Rumours began to emerge of a power struggle at Anfield, with Benitez and Rick Parry clashing over the latter’s role in the club’s transfer activity, and some suggesting that Keane had been bought by Parry while Benitez had favoured prioritising signing Gareth Barry from Aston Villa.
With Tottenham still battling at the foot of the table in January and new (re)signing Jermain Defoe facing a long lay-off after picking up a metatarsal injury, it was unsurprising that Harry Redknapp enquired after Keane’s availability, and both Keane and Liverpool seized the chance to end an unhappy few months. Redknapp did surprise many by naming Keane captain on his return, the manager arguing in favour of Keane’s natural ability as a leader, something he felt the team lacked on the pitch. Keane started brightly, scoring twice in his first four games but managed only 3 more in the remaining 8 games, looking short on confidence throughout.
Which brings us to this summer, and the Premier League season which is upon us. Harry Redknapp’s capture of Peter Crouch from Portsmouth has reunited a striker partnership which proved fruitful on the south coast, and with rumoured interest in Real Madrid cast-offs Huntelaar and Negredo, Keane’s future at Tottenham seemed on shaky ground. As yet there has been no further arrivals at White Hart Lane, so Keane starts the new season as a Tottenham player, though whether the captain’s armband will be enough to secure him a place in the starting XI is uncertain. Redknapp likes at least one of his front men to have height on his side, and while Keane laboured on Wednesday at Thomond Park, Defoe provided a effective cameo for Capello’s England in the Amsterdam Arena.
What this means for Ireland is the very real prospect that the country’s leading goalscorer will start the new season out of form and out of favour, just as it enters a crucial stage in the World Cup qualifying campaign. With a severe lack of striking options for Trapattoni this could not come at a worse time. Keane has shown resilience in the past in regaining his form and his place in his club side, most notably under Martin Jol in his previous stint at Tottenham, displacing Jermain Defoe after a period on the sidelines. Whether he has the strength of character to do that again remains to be seen: Defoe too has an eye on South Africa in 2010, and a club manager who clearly rates his abilities. Robbie Keane might yet add to his accumulated transfer fee before this season is out.