Jim White

The curious case of Robbie Keane

Jim White

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It is a strange old time,
the transfer window. What with planes being
delayed by the weather, Russians getting stranded at the airport and Portuguese
wingers turning up at Chelsea
when everyone expected them to go to Spurs: anything can happen. Even a transfer
that - as recently as last Friday - both parties insisted would never take
place.

Back then, Rafael
Benitez used his weekly press conference to complain publicly about Harry
Redknapp's covetous noises in a
press conference about Robbie Keane. This seemed a little harsh on Redknapp who
has been known to make covetous noises about anything with a pulse.

Still, Benitez was
furious at what he saw as the rampant hypocrisy of the London club. Back in the summer Daniel Levy,
the Spurs chairman, had issued a complaint of tapping-up, irate that Liverpool were trying to unsettle Keane. Now here they
were behaving in exactly the same way. In fact, according to the Liverpool boss, it was worse.

"We will be
writing a letter," he said, the steam seeping from his ears. "The
difference was, we approached them - them. We did things properly. Now they are
saying things in public to the press."

So, those listening to
him fume wanted to know, did Keane have a future at Anfield? "I think so,"
said Benitez. Hardly the most ringing endorsement, agreed. But from Benitez's body language, there was one place the Irishman definitely
wasn't going to be heading.

Skip forward 72 hours
and Keane is travelling through the blizzards to re-sign at White Hart Lane,
all the rancour of the previous few days seemingly forgotten at the first sight
of an open cheque book. The transfer has been identified by those who make a
speciality of reading the Anfield tea leaves as evidence of the manager's weakening position in the Liverpool
hierarchy.

Indeed, it hardly
strengthens his case that he should be given complete control over transfer
matters if he is offloading a bloke he signed only six months ago, publicly
claiming him to be the final piece in the championship-winning jigsaw, for
something north of £5 million less than he paid. That works out at depreciation
of just under a million quid every four weeks: not even a new Range Rover can
match that for precipitous decline in value.

But actually, the
person who emerges from the Keane tug-of-war with the least credit is not
Benitez. Indeed, the chief culprit does not even work at Anfield. Step forward
Levy himself. This transfer window he has seen his new manager - the ace
wheeler-dealer Redknapp - bring in no fewer than three players who were let go
from Spurs by the previous regime in the past year.

Keane joins Jermain
Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda in a bold experiment, going against the conventional
wisdom that you should never return to the scene of the crime. And before Levy
defends himself by pointing to the cunning £5m profit made on the Keane deal,
it should be noted that all that excess and more was consumed in the fee
required to bring back Defoe.

As an indictment of
the previous policy, Redknapp's
January spending could not be more stark. The signing of Carlo Cudicini apart,
what he has done is simply repair the damage of the Juande Ramos era. Like a
footballing version of the Blues Brothers he has spent the month getting the
old band back together. But the fact is, it was Levy who presided over the
policy which saw them depart. It was Levy who brought in a continental
management structure which was supposed to ensure there was no profligacy in
transfers.

It was then Levy who
quickly dismantled it and turned instead to the most traditional of duckers and
divers in order to put right the carnage he had unleashed. There is no talk of
control over the managers spending now. There are no clever tiers of directors
keeping him in check. The madness his new system was supposed to control has been
let loose, encouraged by an apparently bottomless transfer fund.

Yet, Levy remains in
charge (if not in control), in his office, in the best seats in the house, no
doubt telling everyone who will listen that he is responsible for bringing back
the crowd's favourites. Before
doubtless privately insisting that it is about time the players took
responsibility for the parlous position in which the club finds itself. An odd
time the transfer window...

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