Keane, hopes and fears

“….in life you don’t get many opportunities to go somewhere you have dreamed of going.”
Robbie Keane 29th July 2008

So Robbie Keane, a Liverpool fan, is finally a Liverpool player. One of many things (millions my other half would say) that has rankled with me over the years has ended.

Every time I saw Keane play, from his time with Wolves right through to now, I’ve always admired him as a player and always thought he should be ours. Finally this is so. I’m delighted he’s joining us not least because along with a wide player, the one area we where we were really lacking was a partner, or foil, for Fernando Torres. Now we have that, hopefully, repeat, hopefully!

Although the money and deal is high, particularly from Spurs’ point of view, Keane has talked passionately about coming to the club he has always supported and his excitement, even at 28 years and all he has been through, at the prospect of playing for us. Every player says that when they sign for a new club but with Keane you get the impression that he genuinely means it? Translate that passion onto the pitch, together with his cunning, sharpness, pace and experience and no one can complain?

Of course the deal will have its detractors just as Torres’ did last year. Many will say that Rafa is taking a gamble by spending £20m on a 28 year old player. For example if Keane flops, the sell on fee will be considerably less. Will he provide Rafa with enough “bang for his buck”? The answer to that is “who knows?”

Others will see this as the final piece in Rafa’s jigsaw the one who can turn fourth or third place into something higher. Premature? Do we still need more strength in depth? A winger? The answer to that is also “who knows?”

At this moment I don’t see why we should concern ourselves with such thoughts as in truth we will not know the answer until next May or beyond. We analyse and mull over these things year after year, and occasionally write off players or dismiss ideas before a ball is even kicked, but in all honesty where has it got us? Nowhere? Except making us more anxious? So in this case I ain’t gonna go down that road, even though it is a well trodden, one can easily get lost. Perhaps it is better to turn to the immediate future and the question of where Keane will fit in?

The obvious question is will Rafa change the successful 4:2:3:1 formation, which saw us win ten of the final thirteen games in the back half of the season, to accommodate Keane? Torres seemed to thrive in this arrangement with Steven Gerrard sitting just behind him. There are a number of options. Play Keane on the wing leaving Gerrard and Torres as they were? I doubt it. Drop Gerrard back into midfield and slot Keane into his position, more likely? Revert to 4:4:2 with Keane and Torres as out and out strikers? Hmmm possible. Keep things as they are and give Keane Peter Crouch’s old position – on the bench? At £20m I doubt it! How about 5:3:1:1. with three centre halves, Degen and Dossena overlapping? Stop… my head hurts!

I wonder if Rafa himself knows, yet. Surely the key is how well Keane links up with Torres? If this proves successful Rafa has more options with Gerrard. He can move him back into the centre of midfield or, if we have Mascherano plus one other holding, he can have a freer role and maraude forward more and link up with the two strikers? The lack of decent winger notwithstanding the portents look good, on paper at least. Keane is not an out and out striker or a target man. He prefers to play in hole or just behind ie. off the shoulder of a bigger player such as Torres or, in his time with Spurs, Berbatov.

“I think the way Fernando plays and the way I play we will suit each other. It’s kind of like the way it worked with Berbatov and myself with a big lad and a smaller lad alongside him. Fernando is really good in the air and I try to come off and drop into the hole so we’ll complement each other. It’s easy saying that, though. It’s all about doing it and I’m sure we will both work hard together to make it work.”

That fact that after one day Keane is talking in this way shows he is experienced and sussed up about his role within the team, something I’ve often doubted with previous strikers. Hopefully this will facilitate fairly seamless bedding in process providing Rafa with the luxury of “low maintenance” player who can be relied on to deliver?

What Rafa cannot afford is that his new signing(s) kick starts another period of indecision where we see a repeat of the tinkering and meddling that we saw in the early part of last season. Eventually he hit on what seemed a good combination but sadly it was too late.

This season time is something that Rafa might find in increasingly short supply. So surely it should be down to business straight way by fielding Keane against Villarreal tonight. The preparation really starts now?

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