Right, an explanation to begin, before the catterwalling about there being “no problem” with Robbie Keane starts. A striker Rafa Benitez paid £20m for (but more importantly, that was hailed as the final piece of the jigsaw all summer) sat his arse on the bench over a full league game with Blackburn that Liverpool struggled for long spells throughout, and then a crucial home game with Hull where they badly needed a spark. And that’s all while their top forward is out injured. There IS a problem. To suggest not would take an Irish government-like, heads-in-the-sand, of-course-we-can-always-rely-on-the-building-industry stubborness.
And the problem is that Robbie Keane, for varying reasons, has not started terribly well at Liverpool. Those wondering exactly why it was Benitez didn’t rush him from the bench last Saturday are ignoring the evidence built up from Liege (x2), Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Villa, Man Utd, Stoke, Wigan, Chelsea, Spurs, Atletico, Bolton, Fulham, West Ham – all games where Keane neither looked like scoring or creating a goal. 13 starts, 2 sub appearances, for 2 goals against West Brom. You’d swear Benitez was tinkering with a goal machine for all the moaning. If we were to be critical, Keane’s been largely ineffective and mostly anonymous. There have to be questions as to why Benitez bought him and to whether he’s possibly out of his depth.
Okay, there are possible qualifications. Keane’s not had a regular partner and wasn’t bought for playing up front on his own. The way Liverpool play doesn’t necessarily help a striker’s flow of goals (though they are top of the league). Being hauled off every game doesn’t do much for a man’s confidence. But, and it’s a J-Lo sized but(t), there must be questions asked of Keane in all this. Martin Samuel wrote a great piece in the Times recently about how Steven Gerrard supporters spend an awful lot of time telling people all the things he can’t do for a supposedly great player and Jumpthefence finds the same with Robbie Keane. Tony Cascarino took it to farcical lengths last week, narrowing Keane’s ideal effectiveness down to a situation that might happen once a month at best (though there was a glimmer of truth in his piece). You’ll see explanations that Liverpool don’t play to Robbie’s strengths, but that hardly hampered Fernando Torres last season and in truth, top attacking players ought have the capacity to adjust and still offer something.
His limitations? Keane’s not a link man – yep he likes dropping deep but rarely enough is it effective and he doesn’t tot up huge assists – so suggestions of a new Kenny Dalglish were well wide of the mark. He’s not a prolific finisher. Yeah, he’s our leading scorer but critics would point to a lot of padding out against poor sides. Last campaign he missed big chances at home to Germany (that lob) and Czech Rep (that header) and didn’t score against either. Remember him being whipped off at home to Switzerland when we needed a goal the campaign before that (and he didn’t score against France or Switzerland then either)? He’s tactically poor. How many times have we moaned collectively at his flapping about the place up front for Ireland, running a lot but achieving damn little. Throw this all together and there has to be a school of thought that says Keane’s just not a top-club striker. Add in the fact that his temperament doesn’t seem fantastic right now – for those who claim he’s putting the head down and quietly getting on with things, shrugging shoulders at fans during the Hull game, running his hands over his face every time he’s taken off and shaking his head at not getting every pass smacks of a look-how-badly-I’m-being-treated attitude – and perhaps performing highly at Spurs is very different to the pressures of life at Liverpool.
For all this, he does have strengths; in fact, there were occasions last season where Jumpthefence believed he might be turning into a real top player. His movement round the goal is supreme; he’s caught god knows how many defenders with that feint to near post, go far post routine. Those knacky little twitches and turns that can create space in phone-box like areas. Working off knock downs to get in behind defenders. Mostly those instinctive finishes like the crackers notched for Spurs at Anfield and home to Chelsea last season (check out all his 07/08 goals here).
Look, it might all turn out grand for Keane yet; there’s plenty of players who took time to settle at a top club (though mostly it’s guys who came from abroad). But Jumpthefence doesn’t believe that the return of Torres will automatically mean a Yorke-Cole like gelling up front for Pool, in fact we’d suggest it’ll likely limit his chances as Rafa dons his conservative 4-2-3-1 cap. Out wide for Kuyt/ Riera simply can’t work. He may not be shipped out in January (that’s be far too galling an admission of mistake from Benitez) but the summer would be a good bet. We take no pleasure in this – it’s far too long (Duff circa 03/05) since we had a player on form at a top club. But evidence so far would say it ain’t gonna turn out sweetness and light for Robbie Keane. Blame Rafa if you like, but there’s more to this problem.