Taking your opportunities is a piece of football advice usually reserved for young whippersnappers rather than 30-year strikers. Nonetheless this is the task facing Tottenham Hotspur’s Robbie Keane whose playing chances have been enhanced by Jermaine Defoe’s ankle injury. The Republic of Ireland striker, now in his second spell at White Hart Lane, was the subject of intense transfer speculation this summer having been loaned to Celtic for the second half of last season. Keane has been restricted to three substitute league appearances this season but knows that grasping his opportunities in the wake of Defoe’s injury may be his last chance to secure his position at the club.
Signed by Glenn Hoddle in 2002, Keane had previously been on the books of Wolves, Coventry, Internazionale and Leeds. But it was in north London where the forward found his “spiritual home.” Ninth in Tottenham’s all-time top goalscoring list, he was at his most prolific when partnered with the delightfully skilful Dimitar Berbatov. The popular Irishman was the epitome of a consistent performer, regularly registering over 20 goals a season and winning the club’s Player of the Year award on three separate occasions. Despite his blistering form there were still a few eyebrows raised by his £20.3 million move to Anfield in 2008. A goal tally of 7 in 28 matches seems far from disastrous but that was how his brief sojourn at his “boyhood club” was depicted. He failed to gel with his new manager who had spent lavishly only to continually field Fernando Torres as a lone striker.
Harry Redknapp decided to bring the striker back to Spurs the following January in a deal reportedly worth an initial £12 million. He was made vice-captain and the reunion was completed by the return of Jermaine Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda. Virgin trains quipped that there service could take you from, “Liverpool to London quicker than Robbie Keane.” It would have been understandable if his confidence had been completely shattered. However important league goals were forthcoming and the following season he put four past Burnley in their 5-0 home victory. With the arrival of Peter Crouch and the subsequent revival of his partnership with Defoe, Keane’s chances subsided. When appearing off the bench his passing and link up play was not as inventive and his finishing was far from clinical.
That assured finishing was rediscovered during a short loan spell at Celtic, another one of his “boyhood clubs.” Mobbed on arrival, Keane evidently enjoyed being the centre of attention once more, scoring goals and unleashing his trademark celebration. He netted 16 times in 19 appearances at Celtic Park whilst wearing the No7 shirt previously adorned by Henrik Larrson. Media reports this summer suggested that Redknapp was keen to offload the forward but he was unequivocal. “His situation is that he is still one of our better players.” That view was supported by his performances in pre-season, scoring against Fiorentina and Sporting Lisbon. Keane said, “I’m looking forward to the new season as it’s probably the best I’ve felt in a while.”
Relief would have been his overriding emotion at the club’s decision not to purchase another striker. Yet the partnership of Defoe and Crouch appeared watertight until the former was ruled out for three months after sustaining ankle ligament damage on England duty. Defoe’s misfortune represents a prime opportunity for Keane to get the run of games he craves. There is strong competition from Roman Pavlyuchenko and Crouch may be preferred as a lone forward given the abundance of creative talent in Spurs’ ranks. This was the tactic used in their recent draw against Werder Bremen with Keane featuring from the bench. A two pronged attack suits Keane and many of the club’s more nostalgic fans would like to see him recapture his free-scoring form.