Keane Will Seize His Second Chance

Posted by guest on July 30, 2008, 04:05:02 AM

'Keane Will Seize His Second Chance'

Almost ten years ago, Norman Fox of The Independent wrote that 'players who do fail rarely get a second chance'.

Fox's article had nothing to do with Robbie Keane, although that shouldn't be surprising. In the days before internet scrutiny and constant yellow tickers along the bottom of your television screens, a fresh-faced eighteen year old Irishman was quietly increasing his reputation with Wolverhampton Wanderers, having netted eleven goals in his first season. Enjoying an even better second season, Keane was already on twelve when he slotted home in front of a cold and miserable Prenton Park; but despite his side picking up a 2-1 victory over Tranmere Rovers, his mood probably reflected the 6,179 who attended. A casual stroll through Prenton will eventually lead you a view of Liverpool's beautiful waterfront, one revered by many; but for Keane, a harsh reminder of failure. The failure to play for Liverpool Football Club. If he glanced across the Mersey that night, the famed Liverbirds would have stared back at him and cackled at his decision to reject his boyhood club in order to find first-team football at Wolves.

Keane's career path may have mimicked his turns and twists on the football field with the ball at his feet, but it was never in danger of becoming a failure. If an impressive three years at Wolves and his subsequent £6m move to Coventry City hadn't confirmed this, then the attentions of an unknighted and uncouth Alex Ferguson certainly did. The Manchester United manager's claim that he wouldn't have bought Keane for £500,000 would look rather foolish, particularly when Inter Milan bought the 20 year old from Coventry for £13m. Yet for Keane, his heart still belonged to, and longed for, Liverpool. There is something believable in an image of Keane checking Liverpool's scores every week, perhaps even watching them live on television. He'd have plenty of time to do so, given he only made six appearances for the Nerazzuri although Moratti would later admit his regret at allowing him to leave. Nothing compared to the regret Keane must have felt as he saw his beloved Liverpool win three trophies under Gerard Houllier in the same season. He said at today's press conference that he doesn't regret anything, but watching his boyhood team enjoy domestic and European success challenges that assertion.

As a player who had commanded transfer fees of £38m, there was a worry that Keane could become the most expensive and talented journeyman in world football; a consensus which wasn't helped when he joined struggling mid-table side Tottenham Hotspur. However, he thrived in North London and finally became the player fans and pundits expected, his improvement mirroring that of his club. Winning the club's player of the season award in his first year, Keane hit 29 goals in his first season and a half. Keane, it would appear, was finally happy; even the dodgy soup at Jol's last supper which arguably cost them a European Cup place would not deter his enthusiasm for the club. He and Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov would become Jol's two most important and loved disciples, with the Irishman netting an outstanding fifteen goals in his last fifteen games of the 2006/2007 season. More importantly perhaps was the ability he showed to play behind a man with the quality of Berbatov. Whilst Berbatov's had Sky pundits salivating, it was Keane who whetted their appetite, proving himself to be both a goalscorer and a goal creator.

Co-incidences are common in football; Robbie Keane, as a Liverpool supporter, will attest to that. Simply looking at a list of their recent European conquests shows that the beautiful game can rear it's ugly head as the Anfield side gained revenge over Leverkusen, Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan for heartbreaking defeats in the past. The aforementioned Friday night encounter at Prenton Park in January 1998 took place a mere two days before Fox's article was published. Keane's fellow goalscorer for Wolves in that match, incidentally, was Fernando Gomez. Gomez was regarded a legend at Spanish club Valencia CF, making nearly 500 appearences for Los Che. The same club, of course, that Rafael Benitez gained legendary status by winning two La Liga titles in three seasons.

Not that the Liverpool boss would believe in such ridiculous notions of fate and co-incidence. Every reaction is caused by an action for Rafa; if a stack of dominoes tumble, he'll question why the dominoes were placed as such in the first place. He certainly won't have been aware of all these interesting sidenotes to his £20.3m capture, nor will he care. Instead, he will have seen Keane's aforementioned partnership with Berbatov and stored it in that cumulative and augmentative footballing brain of his, especially first-hand last September when Keane scored both of Spurs' goals in a 2-2 draw at Anfield. Benitez will have noted his finishing, movement and creativity; his tenacious nature on and off the ball; as well as the fact he is a born leader, the natural choice to be Tottenham's captain in Ledley King's seemingly inevitable absence. His two finishes will not have been disregarded, either.

Despite his two goals and wild celebrations in front of the traveling Spurs fans, Keane would no doubt cast an envious eye towards the Kop that day; both as a professional and a Liverpool fan; when Fernando Torres netted a last-minute equaliser. Any footballer would love to play behind the Spaniard and most fans would simply love to be him. Scoring a goal in front of the Kop and being greeted with thousands upon thousands of adoring fans bouncing up and down is something any Liverpool fan would give anything for, including Robbie Keane. But at 27, Keane knew he threw that away thirteen years ago and could only look and wish. It appeared that from the dugout, Benitez was doing the same.

Torres' strike partner that day was the much maligned Andriy Voronin. The superlatives which roll of the tongue for Keane simply stumble and stutter for the Ukraine international. Benitez knew that his bosman signing was not good enough and set about giving Keane his second chance, a chance which footballers don't usually get. Playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Liverpool excelled in the league; the highlight of Torres and Gerrard's partnership punctuated with the re-emergence of Dirk Kuyt, the potential of Ryan Babel and the craftsmanship of Yossi Benayoun. Yet, there was something missing with Benitez. The Torres and Gerrard partnership brought fifty-five goals throughout the season, yet the trio of Babel, Benayoun and Kuyt only brought 32 between them with a mere eleven being scored in the league. Robbie Keane scored a career-best of 23 goals last season with fifteen coming in the league. On top of that, his partnership with Berbatov will have no doubt opened Benitez's eyes to the possibility of him playing behind a more talented Fernando Torres.

The acquisition of Robbie Keane is one which Liverpool hope bring them that elusive nineteenth league championship, seventeen years after their last success. Although you won't find Benitez admitting it, Liverpool will find themselves looking to emulate Manchester United's system, with the three players behind the main striker interchanging at will, confusing defenders and creating chances for their striker. Robbie Keane fits into this system perfectly. Rafa referenced Keane's intelligence in his press conference; you can almost imagine the hairs standing up on Torres' cuello when he heard of his signing. Whilst Gerrard brings a more physical and athletic aspect to playmaking, Keane is a quicker and more skillful one. It isn't simply Keane's partnership to Torres that Benitez will be hoping excels; his good friend off the field and club captain Steven Gerrard will be hoping for the performances Tottenham fans have been treated to for the past four six years. Gerrard's runs will create space for Keane to run into; Keane's runs will create space for Gerrard to slide the ball into Torres. Most importantly however, Keane will add goals and fifteen in this league campaign would not have even the most pessimistic Liverpool fan objecting. This isn't even taking into consideration the third of the attacking trio, whether it be Kuyt, Babel or Benayoun. One thing Benitez cannot complain about this season is the attacking talent at his disposal.

But what for the man himself; the man who has received that rare second opportunity after he failed to capitalise on his opportunity to play for his boyhood heroes originally? The obligatory Liverpool shirt to parade for the press seemed to radiate an extra hue of red; or perhaps that was brought out by the the whiteness of his teeth, on full display with a typical Dublin smile. To take the number 7 shirt is a large task for Keane, but it is an assignment which would suit no other player. He understands the significance of it and is potentially the most similar to Dalglish to wear the shirt since his departure in 1991. McManaman was a right winger, whilst both Smicer and Kewell struggled with the mid-50s, mumbling Glaswegian monkey on their back. Keane brings a maturity and ever-present nous with him, both with regards to the famous shirt and the football club; yet another reason Benitez has invested over £20m on his new man. Rafa now wants proven quality; those who know how to play in England's top division and have already done so for a sustained period of time. Keane's inclusion doesn't disrupt the team nor their style of play; there are no ifs or buts regarding the signing, he simply makes the first team better equipped to challenge for the title. There were no ifs or buts with regards to Keane himself, either. 'My whole family are Liverpool fans. I remember every Christmas asking for jerseys and tracksuits – it's great now that I get the tracksuits for free' he said to the media, with a passion exuding from him which cannot have a price tag, nor can the relief he feels that he knows, ultimately, he made the right choice at a fourteen year old.

Benitez is not one for sentiment, although a compilation of post-purchase press conferences may attempt to disprove that. Jermaine Pennant and Craig Bellamy's claims of being boyhood Liverpool supporters prompted the infamous response by Gerrard that 'they all say that though, don't they?' For the ruthless and meticulous Benitez, this wouldn't have played a part in their acquisitions. Nor would it have done so when he inquired about Robbie Keane back in March, although you won't hear his new captain mocking or doubting the Irishman's loyalty as a child. It wasn't just football fans who needn't have had constant reminders throughout the years from commentators and journalists alike that he is a Liverpool fan and turned down the chance to join them at the start of his career; Keane himself woke up with that thought every morning. He never thought he would get a second chance, but now he has, and he looks set to seize it with both hands.

In case you were wondering, the original Independent article at the beginning was referring to Ron Atkinson taking over Premier League side Nottingham Forest's managerial position; and how people like him always seem to get a second chance. It's funny what can happen in ten years, isn't it?

(C) L6 Red

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