A Winter of Discontent: The Robbie Keane Story

David GoreCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2009

It’s odd how words gain new meanings over time. For example, “collider,” once meant an ill-fated object about to cause untold destruction by smashing into something else. Now it means a giant machine in Switzerland that could potentially end the universe.

Then there’s “Robbie Keane.” Once used to signify a dangerous player the top four defences hated coming up against, now it means a dividing line. A wedge between the fans, the board, and some even say the manager and his players.

It wasn’t always so. Once upon a time (around May last year), Rafael Benitez was busy writing his summer shopping list, and Robbie Keane was somewhere near the top. The problem is, he wasn’t the first name to be scrawled.

When he arrived at Liverpool with a fanfare owing more to his price-tag than his career achievements, Robbie Keane was lauded as the final piece in Rafa’s title jigsaw. Much like Harry Kewell, pundits and many fans mistook a former Leeds United player as the man who’d end the 18-year wait for Liverpool league glory. Of course, on reflection, and as we’ve seen this season already, no one player can mount a challenge, but £20 million seemed to be a gamble staked on Keane’s own shoulders.

But was any of that fair? And what’s more, was it even Rafa’s fault?

As I said, Rafa’s list had another name at its summit, and that name was a player who the Spaniard believed, if not would complete the team, at least would complete the midfield. That man was Gareth Barry.

Aston Villa, perhaps as predicted, upped the price on their captain, and I doubt anyone sensible can blame them. This, in itself, wouldn’t have been any problem; the funds were there for any enhanced Barry bid. Except that a certain Liverpool executive had other ideas.

Since 1998, Rick Parry has served as the chief executive of Liverpool FC. Appointed by then owner, David Moores, the unashamed Red led Liverpool through the Houllier years and played a pivotal role in bringing Rafael Benitez to Liverpool.

There can be no doubt that he is fully committed to the club he has always supported, and he is doing his best. But delve deeper, and you see that he has made a number of costly errors of judgement.

During his tenure, he has failed to capture several Benitez targets, such as Nemanja Vidic, Theo Walcott and Simao. Liverpool, one of the best supported global brands in football, has failed to keep pace with other less established brands like Arsenal FC. Tom Hicks, one half of the “Gruesome Twosome” with George Gillett, recently called Rick Parry’s time at Liverpool “a disaster,” and urged him to resign.

Of course, none of this takes in to account the transfers that did come off, such as Torres, Reina, Alonso and Mascherano, as well as managing to persuade shirt sponsors Carlsberg not to run a promotion with the Sun newspaper, something that would have left a bitter taste in any Red fan’s mouth.

But one thing that is clear is that it was Parry who decided to pay well over the odds for Robbie Keane, leaving the bank short when it came to making a move for Gareth Barry. This then forced Benitez to consider selling Alonso after interest from Juventus, since he knew he needed a left-sided player.

In the end, the lack of funds for Barry meant Benitez settled for Albert Riera, who, despite having a decent start to his Liverpool career, is not Gareth Barry.

Recently, Benitez’s contract talks broke down, and it emerged that the sticking point was transfer control, or rather, the lack of it that Rafa has had in recent seasons. The Barry/Keane saga was the final straw for Benitez, who knows that he is now taking the flak for a huge price-tag that he played no part in negotiating, while the player he really wanted is now battling hard to keep Aston Villa’s incredible season going.

Today is transfer deadline day, and it looks like Keane may go. If he does, it’ll be a sad end to a dream move for him, and another piece of the jigsaw slinking off after failed hopes and unrealistic targets.

“Robbie Keane” means a lot of things. Division, poor business and failed chances are some of them. But for me, you have to feel sorry for the man behind the metaphors. A pawn in the game between the upper management, trapped between the pitch and the boardroom, and forgotten as Liverpool march on after beating Chelsea without him.


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