Monday 17 December 2018

No compensation for Robbie amid a rising tally of missed sitters

Perhaps the most damning judgement on Robbie Keane's time at Liverpool is the news that Rafael Benitez is considering re-signing Emile Heskey in the summer. It is a move which, in a further indictment of Robbie's time, has been welcomed by many Liverpool fans. "I dream of the day when he comes back," one Liverpool supporter said to me last week, speaking of the man who scored a goal on average once every 187 games during his previous spell at the club.

There is plenty of time for Keane to transform his career at Liverpool and he has not been helped by Benitez's determination to play him in an unfamiliar role but the evidence so far suggests that if Robbie is to prolong his career at Liverpool, he will be required to make a fundamental cultural adaptation.

Irish supporters have, for many years, been frustrated by a certain giddiness in Robbie's play. This is most apparent in the biggest matches when Keane seems distracted sometimes to the point of apoplexy by the desire to appeal every decision to the referee or fulfil the role of mascot, more traditionally taken by a small child, by offering constant and tireless encouragement to his team-mates.

The second point is more simply overcome: if Robbie was to convert just one of the many chances from four yards he has missed this season instead of fresh-airing them at a ratio previously unknown in a professional footballer, his team-mates would find themselves greatly encouraged and their morale more significantly boosted than it is from his periodic bouts of ritualised hand-clapping.

Undoing his need to run away from the ball and appeal for everything from a penalty to a throw-in will take longer because this is a cultural phenomenon. Robbie, in his desire to win a penalty rather than simply kick the ball, is demonstrating a familiar dependency on the compensation culture which he has not lost despite now being a multi-millionaire.

The need to get something for nothing is now deeply ingrained in our culture and Robbie's problems at Liverpool increase as he becomes more desperate. Like many of us, as he stares into the abyss, he forgets that there may be something on offer for actually doing something, so distracted is he by the notion that he will be compensated by the referee for the negligence of his opponents.

So he claims and claims again, drawn by an ancient race memory that when times are bad, somebody, somewhere has always got Paddy out of a hole, even if sometimes Paddy's had to pretend to fall into the hole just to get things rolling. When he was writing about the Lisbon Treaty in the Irish Times, Frederick Forsyth commented that "behind the cheery 'Slainte', Paddy is smart as paint and sharp as a new razor".

Wise words indeed, but Paddy's native cunning is hindering Robbie right now as he looks for the angle, convinced as his forebears were that somebody should pay for this.

Just before they held his number up to substitute him last Monday, Robbie was glimpsed muttering in that self-pitying way that is also buried deep within the psyche "I bet it's me". At that moment, he appeared as beleaguered and downtrodden as Rashers Tierney, but without the perseverance and sense of hope.

It has been suggested by some, or by me at least, that Benitez's upbringing as the son of a hotel manager made a deep impression on his character. In a hotel, you witness all aspects of humanity, all appeals to the human spirit or at least the human spirit in the form of the night porter. For some, this might instill a deep sense of compassion and humanity; in Benitez it seems to have bred an understandable distrust and dissatisfaction with mankind.

He is notoriously demanding (his attention to detail might also be a product of the hotel environment where the absence of a chocolate on a pillow might send a guest into a rage) and as Robbie struggles to understand what made him a good player at Tottenham Hotspur, it may not help if his manager is also expressing his doubts as he tries to improve the player through rigorous, brutal but constructive criticism.

Liverpool's league position isn't helping Robbie either. At Tottenham, he could go large chunks of the season without anyone paying attention before he volleyed one to the top corner against another mid-table side. A home draw against West Ham would probably be met with cautionary words in the dressing-room afterwards warning the lads not to overdo the celebrations.

Spurs lost nearly every game after they won the Carling Cup last season and while the hardcore may have expressed some mild disapproval at the manner of some of those defeats, nobody seemed to be that surprised or even concerned. There was certainly no talk of a crisis or for the manager to come out and give Robbie his backing as Benitez did last week just after his side moved clear at the top of the table.

Liverpool fans may think that if they had not lost Fernando Torres for much of the season they would now be 12 points clear. This would, however, increase the possibility of them "doing a Newcastle" something that cannot be countenanced while their American owners appear intent on "doing a Leeds".

There are only so many dysfunctional clubs Liverpool can ape in one season, so while the commentators and analysts criticise Liverpool, Benitez is challenging Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the table on a budget that would probably have Gary Megson shaking his head in despair and uttering a desperate, "Ha!"

But this scorn for Benitez's achievements is nothing new. It has been a constant and familiar response to the remarkable job he has done. They have always been wrong and their cries suggest once more that Benitez is on the right track.

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