Yet, here Spurs stand, on the brink of making a legitimate bid for achieving top four status, and Harry Redknapp is reportedly keen to sell him on again. Either Redknapp is an unreliable judge of talent or he feels, like Rafa Benitez at exactly this time last year, that the Tallaght native is not the type of forward who will fire a team into the Champions’ League. Whether this is a fair assessment or not, there seems to be enough tabloid murmuring about Keane’s availability to suggest doubts about his long term future at White Hart Lane.
Against Wolves last Saturday, Keane did nothing to staunch those rumours with a performance during which he was a shadow of his usual self. He played, as he often does during one of these spells where he’s unsure of his starting spot in the team, like a man struggling to get to the pitch of the game. These recurring instances of poor form often beg the question as to whether the uncertainty of his position at the club is the cause or effect of him playing badly. It can’t be helping a striker’s confidence to know that even when you start a game, your number is the one most likely to be held up around the hour mark.
In 330 career starts, Keane has 145 goals. Even if he has traditionally struggled to score against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, this is a fantastic strike rate, especially given that most of those have come in the Premier League. Unfortunately for him just two of those have been in his last 11 appearances and the circumstances of his departure and hasty return to Spurs last year haven’t endeared him to many of the club’s most hardcore supporters either. How could it?
His decision to move to Anfield was a very obvious declaration that he believed Tottenham had no hope of ever matching Liverpool’s ambitions. The same can’t be said of Jermaine Defoe’s brief spell away at Portsmouth and Keane’s current travails have been exacerbated by the goalscoring exploits of his sometime partner but most obvious rival for a starting spot. Defoe has 15 goals in 19 starts in this campaign. Five may have come against Wigan in that 9-1 romp but it’s still an audacious tally. Factor in Defoe being an English international, and forgive us our paranoia, thereby always getting a fairer shake in match reports by English journalists, and it’s obvious Keane is going to find it hard to compete.
This then begs the question about where next for the 29 year old. The Celtic link was as inevitable as it always seems to be when any Irish player comes on the market. Thankfully, there were enough journalists out there willing to point out that a Glaswegian club that pays a highest salary of 25,000 pounds per week might to struggle to lure somebody on more than three times that to Scotland. Of course, the possibility of Dermot Desmond getting involved and paying some of the wages is out there.
“I would suggest that signing Robbie Keane is out of my hands,” said Celtic manager Tony Mowbray last week. “Within the structure we have currently, there is no scope for that. Every football club has its own policies and at this moment I don’t envisage that happening – unless certain individuals want to make that commitment themselves. But at this moment, no, I don’t think so.”
It goes without saying that Keane, despite the reservations about his ability to cut it at the business end of the Premier League is far too good for its Scottish equivalent. The denizens of Paraside may take offence but it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that if he went there he might match Henrik Larsson’s impact and goalscoring in the hooped jersey. Throw in the possibility of regular Champions’ League football and the fact two-thirds of all Celtic games should be pushovers, and Keane could seriously prolong his international career with a move to Glasgow.
The only problem here is he would be joining a sinking ship. Celtic and Rangers, like most of the largest clubs in Europe, are seriously struggling in the recession and their mutual difficulties are made worse by their lack of access to a major cash source like the English Premier League. Right now, it’s not even certain whether in the near future either of them can hold their own as lower-end Champions’ League participants.
Glasgow isn’t the only destination being posited for Keane. Aston Villa is out there as well. Given the presence of Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew and Emile Heskey however, there are no guarantees of a starting spot at a resurgent Villa Park either. Martin O’Neill could afford to pay him but the biggest difficulty Keane faces at this point is that his wages are so high he’s way beyond the budget of other mentioned outfits like Sunderland. Mick McCarthy laughed aloud when a reporter asked him about the possibility of signing the player whom he gave his Irish international debut eleven years ago. Not because he doesn’t rate him but because he knows Wolves’ pay scale is in a different galaxy to Spurs’.
Against that unpromising background, there’s every chance Keane will stay at White Hart Lane. And if the previous trajectory of his career is any indication, he may settle down again, win back a starting spot and even win over the fans. Stranger things have happened.