Saturday, January 15, 2011

Robbie Keane - No X Factor

Robbie Keane, everybody wants him or looking at it differently nobody wants him, or more to the point nobody wants to keep him. He is like some poor puppy at Christmas, met with initial delight and much fervour and then quickly dispatched to the substitutes bench, only the transfer fee stopping him from being thrown in the canal. Now thirty years of age, Keane has suffered the kind of nomadic career usually associated with players either branded as trouble makers or those of limited talent seen only as journeymen, and to my mind Keane is neither. So why does everyone keep getting rid of him?

Keane's professional career started in 1997 at Wolves before he was snaffled up by Coventry City. Internazionale then incredibly swooped after just one season before promptly sending him back to Leeds United within twelve months (admittedly there was some serious talent upfront at Inter at that stage). After Leeds came Tottenham, then his ill fated few months at Liverpool before a return to Spurs, a short term loan at Celtic (the second club he had supported as a boy and the second only club he had ever wanted to play for after Liverpool of course), then back to Spurs and now it seems he is possibly being shipped off to Birmingham whom no matter how flexible his loyalties are, are highly unlikely to be the only club he has ever wanted to play for. So where is it all going wrong?

To me, Keane is a fantastic player and the kind I would pay money to watch, quick, agile, busy, hard working and capable of scoring all manner of goals. His attitude seems to be good and he always appears very amiable whenever interviewed, there is clearly something however that managers simply don't fancy.

Most armchair fans (including this blog) believe they know as much - if not more - about the game as the people who have spent their entire lives immersed in it everyday as first players and then managers. Neither statistically nor pragmatically can this be true although those facts will not stop this blog writing with authority - no nonsense.

There is clearly something in Keane's game that is missing at the highest level. That is not to say that he cannot score goals at that level, his international record of 45 goals from 104 matches playing for a modest Republic of Ireland side would draw comparison with the strike rate and tallys of many of the finest International strikers. It bears amazing comparison to Raul Gonzalez's record of 44 goals from 102 matches for Spain who are a far superior side. A player who is remembered as a Real Madrid legend and one of the most feted players of his generation so it is clearly not all about goal scoring.

You can possibly draw a comparison with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at ManYoo. To my untrained eye, he was one of the most deadly finishers I have ever seen. He also looked a hard working team player with a good attitude. Yet apart from one season when he played on the right wing when the manager was trying to teach Beckham a lesson, Ferguson simply did not fancy Solskjaer as a starter. He was an impact substitute and nothing more. Fortunately for ManYoo, Solskjaer saw them as the pinnacle and he remained patient on the bench, others like Keane will not.

Whatever that x factor is, some players have it and some do not. Michael Owen for instance is another who does not. Fantastic goalscorer that he was and admittedly he has had terrible bad luck with injuries, I cannot honestly recall ever being impressed with Owen over 90 minutes. His goal scoring record for England was a fine one but England's record during his time was not a great one and personally I feel they would have been better served by Teddy Sheringham who brought so much more to the game. Once he joined Real Madrid he suffered the same fate as Keane, consigned to the bench despite being named the European Footballer of the Year and lauded as England's finest striker, he was simply never going to displace Ronaldo (the real one) or Raul even if there were not politics involved. His continued presence in the England team was down to a lack of alternatives and the fact that Eriksson simply saw Owen as one of his untouchables for whatever reason. Owen was reasonably injury free when Madrid wanted to offload him yet none of the big clubs came calling. Other names such as Joe Cole and Tore Andre Flo are other examples from recent times at Chelsea, superficially all the ability in the world but something was missing and it is not always just about work rate. Keane suffered dreadfully at Liverpool as he simply could not comprehend Torres' movement.

The paradox is some players - who nearly everyone I know agrees with me in believing that they are terrible - play game after game for their clubs and country leaving all of us scratching our heads. Step forward Emile Heskey, Philip Neville and to a lesser degree players like Robbie Savage - so it is clearly not all about pure footballing talent either. Lucas at Liverpool looks like a pub player to me yet he gets picked for Brazil.

David Beckham is possible the highest profile example of a player who's medals and career you would say have far outweighed his ability. People will cry it is all about shirt sales and the Beckham brand PR machine that pushes his interests so far but it is not. There is no doubting Beckham's craft in dead ball situations nor his ability to cross a ball but that would surely not be enough to allow a one paced player who cannot tackle nor head the ball to have had such an illustrious career and more importantly won so many medals. Even great teams cannot carry a poor player to that degree for so long, there is clearly something else on the pitch that manager after manager sees in him. He has even managed to change Capello's mind twice - once at Madrid and once with England - which is no mean feat.

So young Robbie's career is potentially about to start another chapter (it's a long book) at St Andrews, he should fit in well with a team of like minded honest players as he is no big time charlie and in the short term should be able to provide the additional firepower they require to haul themselves out of the bottom three. As previously mentioned he seems a genuinely nice guy so this blog wishes him well with his career but would urge him not to enter any competitions run by Simon Cowell as he quite clearly does not have it. No Nonsense.