Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Keane must walk away from his dream team
You don't need scratch too far under the surface to discover how Robbie Keane may have unwittingly become a pivotal figure in Liverpool's ongoing power struggle.
Keane would be the first to admit he has not played as well as he would have hoped in his beloved red No.7 shirt since a £20million move from Tottenham Hotspur last summer, yet the bizarre and inexplicable treatment he has being forced to contend with from manager Rafael Benitez in the last month suggests something more sinister is afoot.
After Keane's Liverpool career belatedly sprang into life with impressive performances against Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers over the Christmas period, Benitez's decision to 'rest' him from subsequent league games was both curious and mystifying.
A return for the Merseyside derby against Everton a week ago suggested the Spaniard was ready to put his support behind the Republic of Ireland captain once again, yet another indifferent performance from Keane gave Benitez the opportunity to 'rest' him from Sunday's FA Cup Merseyside derby and seemingly usher him away from the club altogether.
The fact that Keane's place on the bench was taken by youngster David Ngog left few in any doubt that the Dubliner has become the odd man for Benitez. By confirming he did not speak to his star turn about his decision to leave him out of the tie, the final nail in his Liverpool coffin was shabbily smashed home.
If Keane's form and fitness are not the issue for Benitez - and it is hard to see how they could be in a player respected by all as a model professional - there must be something else blocking his progress and the most rational explanation may come from the club's never-ending and increasingly disruptive civil war.
With Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks unable to settle their differences, the club's infighting reached fever pitch when Benitez refused to put pen to paper on his new Liverpool contract earlier this month, citing a dispute with chief executive Rick Parry over transfer dealings.
Many reports in recent weeks have suggested Benitez questions the skills of Parry to tie up high profile deals quickly enough and this is why he is demanding total control on future transfers before committing himself to the club, yet the Keane signing appears to have planted a vast wedge between manager and the man he should be working with.
A source close to Liverpool has told ESPN Soccernet that Benitez lost faith in Parry when he secured Keane's services from Tottenham. Having been assured that the move would not hamper his bid to land chief transfer target Gareth Barry from Aston Villa, Benitez was pleased to welcome the Irishman into his squad and saw him as a decent back-up to Fernando Torres in the 4-2-3-1 formation he favours.
When Benitez was subsequently informed that there was, in fact, not enough cash in the pot to push the Barry deal through, the furious Reds boss appears to have reached a breaking point and he now seems intent on making his point by turning 'Parry's man' into a spare part.
Former Liverpool and Ireland favourite John Aldridge admits he is baffled by the latest twist in Keane's Anfield career and believes there is credence in the theory that he has been caught up in the battle for control at the top of the club.
"Robbie struggled early on, but he was a part of the team that started the season well and deserves credit for his contribution," said Aldridge in his Sunday World newspaper column. "They say Parry wanted Keane and Benitez wanted Barry and I just hope Robbie isn't getting caught up in some battle between those two.
"As a striker, I know what it's like to go through a barren spell and the joy when you come out the other side is fantastic. The last thing you need it to then be dropped, but that's exactly what Benitez did. Talk about shooting a man when he was in full flow.
"I go to every Liverpool game and you see Robbie starring at the bench when he is warming up, desperately hoping he will be given his chance. It's a dagger in his heart every time Benitez puts a different player on. The only conclusion we can draw is Benitez has lost faith in Robbie already, which an extraordinary just a few months after paying out more than £20million to sign him."
Rumours on Monday suggested Manchester City were ready to put Keane out of his Anfield misery with a switch before next week's transfer deadline, yet it would seem remarkable for Benitez to sanction the sale of a player he hailed as a pivotal signing a few short months ago.
At some point in the process, the Liverpool manager must have felt Keane was a worthwhile addition to his squad and Benitez could emerge as the real villain of this story if the rumours are true he is using his No.7 as a weapon to fire holes in Parry's credibility just as Liverpool co-owner Hicks flies in for crisis talks.
An in-form Keane would have been useful in games that saw misfiring Liverpool drop points against Stoke City and Everton, while an FA Cup replay with their Merseyside rivals could also have been avoided if the Irishman was let off his leash.
His absence has led many to conclude the time has already come for Keane to cut his losses at Liverpool and journalist Paul Hyland was clear in his view of the path his compatriot should follow in an article for Ireland's Herald newspaper.
"Time to pack your bags Robbie," he wrote on Monday morning. "A week to go in the transfer window and the Irish skipper is rapidly reaching the point where he must leave Anfield for his own good. Keane's dilemma at Liverpool is now plain for all to see after Rafa Benitez issued another set of deeply unsatisfactory comments about his Irish striker."
Liverpool legend turned television pundit Mark Lawrenson is another who feels Keane should make an Anfield exit. "Robbie hasn't become a bad players in the last six months, but it hasn't worked for him at the club," states the former Republic of Ireland star.
"He just doesn't fit into Benitez's formation and it means there is only one way for this situation to end. Football can be cruel sometimes and maybe it would be best for all concerned if Robbie moved on to find a club more suited to the way he plays."
Keane and Torres were hailed as the modern day answer to legendary Liverpool strike pairing Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish when they were put together last summer, yet the duo have started just seven Premier League games this season and as it stands right now, their partnership seems destined to be reserved for fantasy football teams.
After five league goals and plenty of unexplained heartache, Robbie Keane saw his worst fears confirmed on Sunday as his manager played his hand and confirmed he no longer wants him at Liverpool.
He may be a victim of circumstance, but this lifelong Liverpool fan needs to put his career before sentiment and walk away from his dream.