Will things ever look up for Robbie Keane at Liverpool?


When a Barclays Premier League club made representations to Robbie Keane, via go-betweens, last week, they were told he doesn't want to leave Anfield and plans to prove himself worthy of a red shirt.

He hopes to be restored to the first-team squad, maybe even the starting XI, when Liverpool go to Wigan on Wednesday night.

Playing for Rafa Benitez can sometimes be like that. The Liverpool manager has never been the easiest to second-guess but even seasoned observers are beginning to shake their heads and wonder at his treatment of Keane, the striker signed for £20million but left out of the 18-man squad for the Merseyside derby two days ago.

Robbie Keane

Someone up there’s got it in for me: Robbie Keane holds his head in frustration after missing a chance against Atletico Madrid

Liverpool's unhappy Irishman seldom hides his feelings when a Benitez decision goes against him but they stayed under wraps on Sunday.

Axed for the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Everton, he kept his angry reaction away from the public gaze by choosing to watch the 1-1 draw from home, rather than a seat in the directors' box.

By Monday morning, the red mist had cleared and he was vowing to do his utmost to win a recall for Wednesday night's Premier League game at the JJB Stadium.

The pain and anger had been real enough, though. The blazing look that has greeted so many Benitez substitutions this season was, instead, burning into his television set.

Keane evidently comes from old school stock and attaches far greater importance to expending energy in the middle than spending his Premier League wages off it. If he isn't playing, he isn't happy, and it is an outlook that could yet earn him a move to Manchester City or even back to White Hart Lane.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is a confirmed admirer of the 28-year old and Spurs have proved by signing Jermain Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda that they are not afraid to go back to their damaged goods of old.

Robbie Keane

City are also monitoring developments and are ready to offer him an escape route, should they receive even a glimmer of encouragement from Benitez.

Of Keane's 23 starts so far, 18 have seen him substituted, with, more often than not, his chin hitting the floor. His confidence has been drained so that even simple chances are being snatched at.

When he scored twice against West Bromwich in November, after having managed only two goals in the previous three months, he was substituted.

When he followed up with another winning double against Bolton on Boxing Day, to make it three goals in two appearances, he was dropped two days later at Newcastle.

Such is life under Benitez.

There are those, like Steven Gerrard, who put aside their occasional bewilderment and marvel at his coaching prowess and others who find it harder to accept, like Keane and Peter Crouch before him.

Crouch, too, struggled for goals in his early days and, after finally answering the doubters, experienced the same frustration at being taken off with a morale-boosting hat-trick tantalisingly close at hand.

The similarities end there, though. While Crouch was perceived as being too full of himself in Benitez's eyes, after becoming a fixture for England, Keane's self-belief has wilted visibly with each reminder of the Spaniard's ruthless approach.

Robbie Keane

Sitting out: Keane's place on the Liverpool bench has been an all too familiar sight

It will doubtless be seen as a weakness by Benitez, who expects his players to perform to their maximum without any recourse to an arm round the shoulder or word of reassurance.

Perhaps they should, but Benitez can hardly consider himself blameless after dipping into dwindling funds to such an extent for a player who was supposed to be Fernando Torres' ideal partner but soon became a victim of a tactical rethink.

Keane and Torres were still trying to tune into the same wavelength when Benitez increasingly began to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation, with his £21million record signing from Atletico Madrid the obvious lone front-runner and Gerrard foraging just behind, in between two wide players.

Robbie Keane

Striking out: Keane in Champions League action against Atletico Madrid

If it looked good on paper, it worked just as well in reality, much to Keane's dismay as he found himself either being overlooked or over-eager to impress on the odd occasion Benitez turned to him.

So it has proved this month, with two starting appearances ending early, either side of being an unused substitute at Stoke, followed by the ultimate snub of not even making the bench against Everton. Benitez's final January selection awaits at Wigan on Wednesday and it would be typical of him to defy all logic by recalling Keane.

Equally, he could be sanctioning his disgruntled striker's departure to Tottenham or City.

Reading between the lines is never straightforward with Benitez but the odds on the latter are shortening by the minute.

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