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Keane never learnt Torres' language

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Liverpool supporters had hoped that Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane would form a strike partnership to rival the likes of Rush and Dalglish but it was not to be

Liverpool supporters had hoped that Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane would form a strike partnership to rival the likes of Rush and Dalglish but it was not to be

Liverpool supporters had hoped that Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane would form a strike partnership to rival the likes of Rush and Dalglish but it was not to be

Theirs was a relationship which began in adjacent seats on Champions League flights home, attempting to develop a telepathy which might translate onto the field of play and one which ended in a mood of alienation and lost trust.

It was hard to believe that the Robbie Keane testing out his Irish accent on Fernando Torres on the flight home from Liege, after their side's Champions League qualifier back in August, was the same individual casting rueful glances across Anfield towards the Spaniard, on what was to prove his last start for Liverpool against Everton in the Premier League two weeks ago, as Torres cut him out of attacks and sought out passes to Steven Gerrard instead.

If Keane moved mountains to make his relationship with Torres work then Liverpool did the same to bring him to Anfield. It might seem a lifetime ago now but only six months have passed since the Merseyside club paid money into the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation after acknowledging that Rafael Benitez's public comments about the 28-year-old's talents had been inappropriate.

Keane struggled from the start with the mantle that the £20.3m transfer and the number seven shirt brought up on him. "If I can have half as much success in it as Keegan and Dalglish did, I will be a happy man," he said after signing, but the fraction was considerably smaller than that. Rafael Benitez had no preconceived idea of how to deploy him -- "my idea is to see the player training, see him with his team-mates and then decide," he said after signing him -- and never used him in the kind of settled alliance which had seen the Dubliner prosper with Dimitar Berbatov at Tottenham, scoring 49 goals in the previous two seasons.

There were fleeting moments when Keane looked to be coming good -- his display in September's Goodison derby was his best and Gerrard, whose role behind Torres Keane had taken that day, sought him out in the dressingroom afterwards to reassure him that goals would come.

One did, in his next game against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League. But he was back on the bench in the next game and not even two goals against Bolton and one against Arsenal in successive December games could secure him a place in the starting line-up at Newcastle. It was his 15th substitution in 22 games, against West Ham at Anfield on December 1, which he openly questioned.

There were to be occasional good displays after that -- no Liverpool player was better than Keane during the second half in Eindhoven -- but by then Benitez knew the Irishman was not "a nice, humble boy" as he described his beloved Torres after that Goodison derby. Keane's disenchantment has a habit of being directed at his team-mates, too, when the right pass did not arrive his way. It is his own, competitive way but it all added up to a player as far removed as you can get from the Benitez ideal.

Events served to harden Benitez's perspective -- flawed though it was and borne of him losing out on Gareth Barry -- that Keane was his proprietors' signing, not his own. Perverse though the logic may sound, the Liverpool manager privately indicated, even as Keane was first acclimatising on Merseyside, that he actually needed a winger -- Albert Riera, as things turned out -- far more than the striker who had been purchased for him to replace Peter Crouch.

Redknapp read Benitez's language last week. Spurs' chairman Daniel Levy broached the subject of a £13m cash deal with Liverpool by telephone on Sunday, was given short shrift from a club looking to get back much of their initial outlay and returned yesterday.

One of the factors in the back of Keane's mind as Spurs returned with their £16m deal was his wife Claudine Palmer's desire to develop TV and modelling careers. She had not entirely settled on Merseyside and felt she had more opportunities in London. Keane will still head back to north London tormented by what might have been. With five goals from 16 starts, his Liverpool record seems modest but he has always been a slow starter: not once has he scored more than three goals from his first 11 games in his fruitful past five years. Though Tom Hicks and George Gillett backed the decision to release Keane at a Liverpool board meeting yesterday, some at the top end of the club are baffled.

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obstinacy

Keane's exit came too late for Liverpool to bring in the Argentina striker Javier Saviola from Real Madrid, on loan, and it remains to be seen whether Benitez's obstinacy will be his undoing in the title race to come. The significant loss on Liverpool's initial investment on Keane may also weigh against Benitez as he seeks control over Liverpool's transfer budget.

Meanwhile, the club's co-owner George Gillett has admitted for the first time he would be "open" to selling his stake in the club despite insisting the side's finances are on a sounder footing than their Premier League rivals and denying there is a July deadline for a £350m loan to be repaid.

Gillett agreed to speak with a representative from supporters' union, Spirit of Shankly, after being confronted by a group of fans in his Liverpool hotel before Sunday's 2-0 win over Chelsea, which reignited the club's title challenge.

In the meeting, the group's Jay McKenna outlined fans' grievances with Gillett and his co-owner Tom Hicks, which the American duo witnessed first-hand when hundreds stayed behind at Anfield to demonstrate against their regime.

A Spirit of Shankly statement said Gillett expressed surprise to learn of the supporters' antipathy but admitted several parties are interested in relieving him of his stake in the club.

And Gillett, according to McKenna, also seemed to blame Rafael Benitez's outburst at Alex Ferguson for Manchester United deposing Liverpool at the top of the Premier League. "Gillett said to me that, a few weeks ago, Liverpool were in first position and then a certain individual from the club attacked another individual from another club and since then we have lost form and slid down the league," said McKenna. "I was stunned and asked if he was blaming Benitez and, in saying that, was not backing the manager.

"Rather than confirm or deny, he said that was my implication."

Gillett's comments on the state of the club's finances have also further enraged supporters who are already unimpressed by the Americans. McKenna said: "I asked would he, Hicks or both be selling their stakes. He told me he could not speak for Hicks, but said there have been expressions of interest and some negotiation. He could not say who with but admitted he was open to selling, but could not speak for Hicks.

"I asked why he could not speak for Hicks, his partner, and he said husband and wife can say different things but one does not get the blame. He said he and Hicks had worked together well for six years in business but this was different because of the media."

McKenna explained to Gillett three areas of unhappiness among the fans concerning their ownership, although the Colorado-based businessman insisted he and Hicks had done their best to uphold Liverpool's traditions.

custodian

McKenna said: "Gillett told me he had tried to be a true custodian as he promised, saying it had been difficult but they had done what they could.

"I told him the fans see that he and Hicks have made three promises and broken them. The first was the debt on the club. I told him his partner Hicks promised it would not be like the Glazer takeover at Manchester United and to fans that meant no debt on the club. He claimed this was at the request of the banks and they were in a sound financial position with revenue in ratio to the debt better than any other club.

"When I asked about the extension of the £350m loan with RBS and Wachovia to July, he claimed that was false and no one else knew the true details because they were confidential.

"The second was failing to back the manager. I asked him why they had approached Jurgen Klinsmann, and he claimed they had met with Benitez, who had told them he was to have talks with three other teams about joining them. They approached Klinsmann to work as a consultant if Rafa had left.

"The third was the new stadium, because Gillett himself had promised a spade in the ground in 60 days. He denied making this claim. He claimed they had spent £100m on the stadium and were still working with designers, architects and planners. He claimed this money was coming from himself and Tom Hicks, not from the club. He then claimed all transfer fees to date had been met by him and Tom."

Hicks and Gillett met Benitez before Sunday's game and sources close to both camps described the mood as "positive" but insisted there was some way to go before the finishing touches were put to Benitez's new contract. He is holding out for a four-year deal giving him control over transfers and academy recruitment.

Hicks is said to understand Benitez's concerns but, as yet, has not buckled to his demands. The powerbrokers did not meet yesterday as Hicks has returned to the States. (© Independent News Service)


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