battle for places

Keane to impress

August 14, 2009
By Kevin Palmer
(Archive)

When Robbie Keane started last season as Liverpool's newly elected No.7, he seemed to have reached the pinnacle of his sporting ambition.

Keane: Faces a fight for his place
GettyImages / FengLiKeane: Faces a fight for his place

After spending his youth running around the streets of Dublin in Liverpool red, Keane became the proud owner of the jersey made iconic by the likes of Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish and nothing, it seemed, could stop him from building his own Anfield legend.

As it turned out, Keane's Liverpool story rapidly turned into a messy embarrassment, with his omission from squads and regular bench-warming activities leaving him in little doubt that Reds boss Rafael Benitez did not want him at the club. A divorce was the only option for all concerned just six months into a stormy relationship that appeared, initially, to have all the ingredients required for lasting happiness.

A return to Tottenham was the best option for Keane, even though he had very publicly expressed his undying love for Liverpool and insisted it was the romance of his dreams. So, like a naughty boy who had been lured into a brief fling only to come home when the wife had found out, Robbie sneaked back to London last January, shutting the door firmly on his previously irresistible ex.

It was natural for a player whose pride had been diluted to have a dip in form in the aftermath and thus was the case as he struggled to find his best touch with Tottenham on his return, yet Keane now finds himself facing up to a new crisis that may turn out to be just as challenging as the one he failed to overcome last season.

After the fixture computer ensured Keane's final game of last season would be against his 'ex-lover' at Anfield, this term kicks-off with another fixture against Liverpool on Sunday and there is a very real prospect that he will spend the game a little closer to old foe Benitez than he would want.

Tottenham captain he may be, but if Spurs manager Harry Redknapp picks the proven front pairing of Jermain Defoe and summer capture Peter Crouch, Keane will again be within spitting distance of Benitez on the Tottenham bench.

With Russian marksman Roman Pavlyuchenko is also vying for a starting spot in Redknapp's overcrowded queue for striking berths, Keane needs to be versatile as he looks to carve out a niche in a team that could emerge as strong contenders for a top five finish this season.

''Robbie can play in a variety of positions and that's why I was so delighted to get him back to the club last season,'' states Tottenham boss Redknapp. ''I have followed his career and just love the way he plays the game, so he has a massive role to play for us this season without any doubt.

''We are lucky to have four top quality strikers to pick from, but I see Robbie as a vital member of the club and not just the team. He has been made captain and it's a role he thrives in. Robbie is a voice in the dressing room and if people are not pulling their weight, he is more than happy to let them know about it. I felt we needed a few bigger personalities at the club and Robbie arrival was vital in that respect.

''I'm lucky to have some great options with Defoe, Crouch, Pavlyuchenko and Robbie is someone who can slot into a deeper position when required. We have looked at it in the pre-season programme and it may be an option for us.''

GettyImages / AdamPrettyTottenham have a number of top strikers, all fighting for two spots.

With Croatian magician Luka Modric set to be handed the creative midfield role behind the forwards, it's hard to see how Keane gets into a first choice Tottenham XI and yet the Dubliner insists he ready to fight for his chance as the new season approaches.

''I'm delighted we signed Peter Crouch because he is a top class player and I welcome the competition for places he brings,'' states Keane, whose ramblings to the media are always more than a little guarded. ''This club should be challenging for European football every season and you can only do that by signing top players.

''Obviously Peter has a good record playing alongside Jermain (Defoe) and people will think they are going to play together, but I'm sure the manager will rotate the team. I have always felt I can play well with Jermain and now I'm looking forward to trying to develop an understanding with Peter.

''It's good to know you have to play well or else someone will come in to take your place and that's the stage we are getting to with this squad now. We have so much quality at Tottenham and maybe we can be the ones that break into the top four this season.

''People look at Manchester City and they have spent a lot of money, but we have done the same over the last 12 months and maybe we can quietly sneak in and cause a few surprises this season.''

Keane is muttering all the right words as he prepares for his latest meeting with Benitez, but he must be sorely tempted to ask the Spaniard what exactly happened in the first half of last season should he bump into the Spaniard in the White Hart Lane tunnel this weekend.

''I treat it as another game and that has always been the case when I play against my former clubs,'' is Keane's automated response to questions about his most obvious Liverpool sore spot. However, he did show his respect for his old club by refusing to celebrate his goal against the Reds at Anfield last May, earning him a rapturous ovation from the Anfield hoards as a result.

What happens next for Keane is open to debate. When once it seemed his starting spot at Spurs was secure for as long as he wanted it, that may no longer be the case and it must be a concern in a World Cup year.

Now settled in North London with his wife Claudine, the last thing Robbie wants is another transfer, even if the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland would be only too pleased to offer him just that, but that decision may be taken out of his hands if he spends the first half of this season waiting for first team chances once again.

Even though Keane is a popular character among Spurs fans, you suspect a majority of the White Hart Lane faithful would rather see folk hero Defoe starting against Liverpool ahead of the team's appointed leader.

Defoe's two goals in England's draw against Holland on Wednesday night served to highlight his fine form ahead of the new season, leaving Keane to ponder whether he is about to be cast, once again, as the odd man out.