Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Robbie Keane: Caught Between a Rafa Sized Rock and a Parry Place

There has been much speculation about Robbie Keane's future at Liverpool since his surprise omission from the squad that faced Everton in the FA Cup on Sunday. More so after Rafael Benitez admitted he had left the Irishman out of the squad for David Ngog, who had impressed in the reserves during the week.

Newspapers went into overdrive with rumours that Keane was about to follow Jermain Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda back to White Hart Lane and Tottenham Hotspur. Since his £20m dream move to Liverpool, I think it would be fair to say that Keane has not set the world alight, and that there seems to be some kind of mistrust on the part of Benitez...

If you sit down and analyse Keane's 34 game career at Anfield, you could be forgiven for thinking so. After making his debut in the Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege in August, Keane has started 23 games of his 34. Quite good, especially for a new player.

However, he has only finished five games. So Keane is always playing looking over his shoulder at Rafa, waiting for the No. 7 to be raised above the fourth official's head. This knowledge that he is "always" going to be substituted has had a huge effect on the Irishman's confidence, and has placed even more pressure on his slender shoulders as he knows he will be taken off regardless of whether he plays well or not.

And, after Steven Gerrard's admission to Mark Lawrenson that Keane's agent was told to find him a new club at Christmas after Rafa had lost all faith in him and wanted him out of the club, it would seem that Keane's dream move had turned sour.

But why would Rafa choose to subject his second most expensive signing to such treatment? Why the continual substitutions? Why omit him from important squads? I mean this is the player he spent £20m on, who needs time and an arm around the shoulder to settle, why treat him like this?

And once you ask those questions, and you add one or two other things into the equation, you come up with the answer.

Rick Parry signed Keane, without the full backing of Benitez.

Through no fault of his own, Robbie Keane has become the wedge in the power struggle in the corridors of power at Anfield. Rafael Benitez recently refused to sign a new contract. The reason: he wants full control of transfers and wants Parry removed from his position of Chief Executive.

From the board's point of view, they have been unhappy with Benitez's tranfer spending since he came in as manager five years ago. In the intervening period, Benitez has spent some £170m but has only recuperated £69m. This is why Parry has become move involved, and the Keane signing was seen as a significant development in his influence.

Since the summer there has been a huge shift in power at Liverpool, and Rafael Benitez has become a massive force at the club. The first part in this is Liverpool's current challenge for the title. There have always been doubters on the Spaniard's ability to challenge at the highest level despite guiding his team to two Champions League Finals and including winning the Champions League Trophy in 2005.

One other reason for the rise in Benitez's power has almost gone unnoticed.

He is now the main force in the dressing room, not Steven Gerrard. Since Gerrard was arrested and charged with assault after an incident in a night club, Benitez has shielded his star player admirably.

And for the first time since Benitez came to Anfield in 2004, Gerrard has to go to him for protection, not the other way around.

So with Benitez's rise in power, his refusal to sign a new contract, and Keane's constant stuttering, the Spaniard has chosen the Irishman to inflict major damage to his Chief Executive.

Parry refused to back Benitez's pursuit of Gareth Barry in the summer, feeling that the £18m fee was exorbitant for such a player. But he did back the £20m signing of Keane from Liverpool while Benitez was lukewarm about bringing the Tottenham captain to Anfield.

And now with the tension about contract signings being cranked up while Real Madrid float in the wings, Rafael Benitez has chose to make his move—by making Keane the scapegoat.

On one side of Anfield lie Rafael Benitez and Tom Hicks, and on the other George Gillet and Rick Parry. The latter both know that the Anfield fateful will support Benitez 'til the death so it remains to be seen what their next move will be.

You can argue 'til the cows come home whether Keane deserves his place in the starting XI at Liverpool. His performances have been patchy at best—superb against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Bolton, and horrendous against Atletico Madrid and Preston.

One thing you cannot deny about the Irishman is that he is a superb professional, his endevour can never be questioned no matter how poorly the game is going for him. It is one of the reasons that he is the only player in Premiership history to score double figures six seasons in a row.

So as Robbie Keane is hung out to dry by a manager who is playing boardroom power games, we see the real face of football. Money is what is important, politics and power within a club are what is important and somewhere along the line players and football comes in too, unfortunately they are always in last place.

twitter / WillieGannon