Irish striker Robbie Keane found his way from White Hart Lane to Upton Park at the end of the January transfer window.
Though the stellar play of fellow transfer striker Demba Ba eclipsed Keane’s move from Tottenham Hotspur to West Ham United, the Irish international may prove one of the most important players in shaping the Hammers’ future.
West Ham gaffer Avram Grant and majority owners David Sullivan and David Gold made Keane’s purpose at West Ham explicit: help the team avoid relegation. If he does not, it’s back to the auction block. If he does, Keane will stay with the Hammers for two years.
A shortsighted analysis of Keane’s importance to West Ham somewhat absurdly places the burden of the Hammers’ successful avoidance of relegation squarely on his shoulders while making no provisions for his future worth to the club.
Certainly, since the return of Hitzlsperger and the emergence of Ba as a key player, West Ham has shown its ability to perform competitively at the top level without Keane.
Rather, Keane’s true worth as a Hammer is in his long-term potential.
Even the most cosmetic and rudimentary examinations of West Ham’s club history reveal a stark truth: the team has a very difficult time holding on to top players. Frank Lampard, Carlos Tevez, Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Defoe are among the many excellent footballers to slip through West Ham’s fingers over the years.
If Demba Ba continues to play the way he has been since his arrival at Upton Park, chances are a top team will make a competitive bid for his services. West Ham has a historically difficult time rejecting such bids.
Furthermore, Ba expressed his desire to make a lasting impact on the EPL upon his arrival in England.
“I have so much respect for Drogba. For me he is like an idol. I love Drogba, I love the way he is on the pitch. It was the same with Thierry Henry at Arsenal.
“But I'm not looking at them when I'm playing, I just want to be Demba Ba - nobody else,” said Ba in an interview with the Daily Mail.
Ambitious words from an ambitious young man, words that indicate a desire to become a legend of the EPL. Certainly such a player would rather ply his trade at a Big Four side than a team struggling to avoid relegation.
Assuming West Ham fails to keep Demba Ba on it’s roster, the squad will be left with the reliably consistent Freddy Piquionne and two very talented players who struggle to find the back of the net, Carlton Cole and Victor Obinna.
And Robbie Keane.
In such an eventuality, Keane will be indispensable to the Hammers for two reasons. Firstly and most obviously, he will be Avram Grant’s choice striker to play up front along Piquionne. Though many believe Keane is past his prime, the striker scored 16 goals in 19 appearances, including a hat trick.
More so than Piquionne, Keane shows a strong desire to link with the midfield players in an effort to create movement, space and opportunity.
Though Keane failed to find many chances in the Hammers’ dismal display at Bolton last week, he displayed spirited attempts to engage the Wanderers midfield and create opportunities for the Irons.
Keane will also provide immeasurable guidance to the West Ham’s stable of forwards. Presently, the Hammers have a seasoned defender in captain Matthew Upson and an experienced midfielder and natural leader in Scott Parker, but lack an experienced guiding hand up front.
A mentor like Robbie Keane may be just the thing that Carlton Cole needs to gain the measure of composure and calm that he needs to become a genuine and constant goal-scoring threat.
Keane’s team play and talent for linking with attacking midfielders and fellow strikers, meanwhile, will help Victor Obinna develop the similar instincts he possess but only displays sparingly.
The future of West Ham United is a tumultuous consideration, though one that Irishman Robbie Keane will undoubtedly play a crucial role in.