The truth behind Robbie Keane’s brief transfer to Liverpool in 2008 has come to light, with the true story finally being revealed.
The Irish all-time top goalscorer suffered two failed, big-money transfers in his career. As a 20-year-old, he made a £13 million move to Inter Milan which ended in just 14 appearances, and 3 goals.
It could be argued that his move to Italy came too soon in his career, and he later flourished as one of Tottenham’s greatest strikers.
However, it was Robbie Keane’s transfer to Liverpool in the summer of 2008 that came at the perfect time for him in his career – yet went horribly wrong after just six months.
After scoring over 100 goals in six seasons for Spurs, Liverpool bolstered their impressive attack with the signing of Robbie Keane. His signing was a statement of intent from Rafa Benitez’ side, who aimed to challenge for the Premier League title with the front line of Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane.
Keane was signed in the summer of 2008, costing the club a £19 million fee. This made him (at the time) Liverpool’s second record transfer fee, only beaten by Fernando Torres the year prior.
At age 28, he was at the peak of his powers. He was banging in goals for Spurs and Ireland, captaining both sides to relative success. He seemed like a fantastic signing – talented, hard-working and a leader on and off the pitch.
The transfer could not fail.
Then, the transfer failed.
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez originally told Keane he was signed to play alongside Fernando Torres up front. This would entail the team playing with two strikers, presumably lining up in a 442 formation.
However, this did not suit the main players in the Liverpool team. The spine of the team surrounded the midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano. The three men comprised one of the best midfields in the league, and dropping one of them seemed unthinkable.
This meant that, despite promises from the Spanish manager, Robbie Keane would instead be repurposed as a winger – moulded into a Dirk Kuyt-type player.
Robbie Keane knew 20 minutes into his first game for the Reds that the move would not be a success. After a career of being a prolific striker, a hard-working was not what he wanted to be doing.
“He wanted to change me to a left-winger,” Keane said.
“And, I mean I’m clearly not a left winger, and that’s obviously clear for everyone to see. The first 20 minutes he wanted me to play left wing and I had never played it before, so it was kind of new to me.”
The Irishman struggled to find his shooting boots in his new role, netting just five times in 19 Premier League appearances. He didn’t score his first goal until October, and didn’t find a starting spot in the team until an injury to Torres opened a space up top.
However, even when he did get on the pitch, it was not for long. In 28 games in all competitions, Robbie Keane was substituted 19 times – including when he was on a hat-trick against West Brom.
After a disappointing six months, both Keane and Liverpool decided to cut their losses. Tottenham bid £12 million for their returning captaining, signing him back just six months later and handing Liverpool a £7 million loss on the Irishman.
That equates to about £1.4 million per goal.
Robbie Keane’s transfer to Liverpool was undoutably a failure, but maybe not entirely to his own fault. Rafa Benitez never set him up for success, and it seems strange why he bought an out-and-out striker, when he wanted a second Dirk Kuyt in the team.
Steven Gerrard doesn’ think his disappointing six months was entirely down to Robbie Keane, and puts some of the blame onto a clash to styles with Rafa Benitez.
Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1, Gerrard said
“I don’t think that was all down to Robbie.”
“Robbie came and worked hard on the training pitch and scored some important goals for us.”
“I think there was a bit of clash with Rafa Benitez maybe, but I certainly wanted him to stay around for a long time. Hee’s a very talented player and I like playing with him so I was sad to see him go.
“It was more down to Rafa trying to change the way Robbie played and, for me, the reason we bought Robbie was for him to play off a front man and cause damage between defence and midfield.”
“Rafa was trying to change that and change his game and I don’t think Robbie was too happy with that, I think that’s where the clash came.
Robbie Keane On Liverpool Transfer
The legendary Irishman spoke about his brief Liverpool spell in an interview with Liverpoolfc.com, prior to his appearance in a legends match for the club.
Robbie Keane revealed that he wanted to stay with Liverpool for a long time after signing (he did agree a five-year contract with the club when he joined), but that it was the lack of football that forced him to move.
He also gleefully recalls scoring a fantastic goal against Arenal, netting a half-volley at Emirates Stadium that Reds fans still remember to this day.
Obviously my intention was to stay there for as long as possible. But in football, as we know, it happens, things change. Of course I would’ve liked to stay a little bit longer but it wasn’t meant to be.
All we ever want to do is just to play football. I’m not one of these guys that wakes up on a Saturday morning looking forward to sitting on the bench. I was someone who just loved football.
Whether it’s Sunday league or for Liverpool or Tottenham, you still want to play every game. The manager had different ideas, which is fine and I’ve got no problem with that, everyone’s got their own ideas and I respect that. But I do reflect on it [with] no regrets.
As I said, I was very fortunate to pull that jersey on and have some good moments – scoring against Arsenal in the Emirates, that half-volley and goals like that. That will always stay forever.