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Ice-cold Benitez may rue Keane departure

JUST imagine this: the last minute of the last game of the season and Robbie Keane, a cockerel rather than a Liver bird on his shirt, goes running through one-on-one against Pepe Reina in front of a fraught Kop.

Keane could kill Anfield's dream of a first title in 19 years, gifting the championship to Manchester United, letting their hated rivals equal their record of 18 titles. Selling Keane back to Spurs would then be officially chronicled as one of the most expensive mistakes in footballing history. So why offload him? Rafael Benitez has some explaining to do.

FAR-fetched

The last-day doomsday scenario may be far-fetched, as United will surely have de-iced the open-top bus by then, but the 'Curious Case of Keane's Six Months on Merseyside' would take the combined forensic skills and analytical minds of Morse, Poirot and Holmes to unravel.

Liverpool surely do not need the money that urgently; for all the chaos surrounding their irritating American co-owners, a cheque for £15m-plus (in reality a restructuring of Liverpool's original £20m payment) cannot form a motive to sell.

A title is worth that in prize-money and commercial trappings. So why gamble? Ambitious clubs do not dispense with good strikers mid-season. Very odd. But peer into Benitez's mind.

The decision to send Keane back south was driven through by Benitez, and it is hard to find logic in the Liverpool manager's actions.

If Fernando Torres stretches for a ball in training at Melwood this morning and pulls one of those sensitive hamstrings, the songs of praise for the popular Keane will turn into a requiem on Liverpool's season.

After Torres struck twice against Chelsea on Sunday to revive Liverpool's Premier League aspirations, Keane was one of the first in the dressing room congratulating the victors. The Dubliner was well liked by Torres, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, and their opinion set the tone. Keane will be missed by the players.

But not by Benitez. Keane arrived at Anfield eager to fulfil a childhood dream of pulling on the red of Liverpool and he was warmly received by the players. But Benitez does not do warm.

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If Keane had been signed by Benitez's predecessor, Gerard Houllier, he would have been given more time to prove himself, but the Spaniard is a hard taskmaster.

Benitez enjoys a reputation of quickly dismissing those who fail to deliver, yet it is here that confusion enters the debate. As he drove back to London yesterday, Keane could have been forgiven for wondering how Ryan Babel has been given time by Benitez while he has been sent south.

Some sympathy must exist for the underperforming Keane, rarely given a run in his best position -- through the middle. Keane's treatment simply exposes the reality that Benitez is a cold manager, clearly an individual raised at icy Real Madrid rather than in Liverpool's more compassionate, family-driven atmosphere.

Gerrard's famous lament about Benitez, that his career ambition remained a desire for a "'well done' off Rafa'' has never rung truer. Benitez's approach to man-management has always been a hand at the throat, not an arm around the shoulder. Cold, cold, cold. Benitez is a one-man cold snap.

Today, as he previews tomorrow's FA Cup collision with Everton, Liverpool's manager will seek to justify his reasons for banishing Keane. Benitez will hint at dark, political club reasons, but Keane's exit is purely the Spaniard's doing. In dismissing Keane, he may live to rue not bringing in Emile Heskey.

inspired

Anyone looking at the winners and losers in the transfer window will surely conclude that Aston Villa have done the best deal. Only £3.5m for Heskey! Martin O'Neill, an inspired man-manager, has struck again.

Heskey will slot effortlessly into the dressing room. On the pitch, he will take some of the work-load off Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young. Those Liverpool players who craved the selfless Heskey returning to Anfield now sound frustrated people.

Other clubs have excelled during the window. Jimmy Bullard may discover that London is bigger than Hull but this looks a neat piece of business. The fee, £5m, appears steep for a 30-year-old and the 4½-year contract particularly generous, but Hull crave more energy through the middle and a bit more ebullience in the dressing room. Bullard provides that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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