The move was, in fact, a last ditch attempt to help Celtic claw back Rangers’ lead in the SPL title race. Keane is the highest paid player ever at Celtic and was brought in very much for the here and now, in contrast with many of (now former) manager Tony Mowbray’s ‘long-term’ signings. However, defeat at Kilmarnock in Keane’s debut and losing at Ibrox in February confirmed that Rangers would be champions for the second successive year.
It’s been widely reported that regardless of how succesful Keane’s time is at Celtic, he will return to Tottenham at the end of the season. Spurs manager Harry Redknapp has said as much from the minute the loan was agreed, and Mowbray also indicated that it’s unlikely that Celtic could afford to buy the player on a permanent basis. Recent quotes in the English press attributed to Keane also suggest he will head back south in the summer.
If only it were that simple. Regardless of what the player and the managers involved are saying, Keane would be mad not to keep his options open – and at the end of the current campaign he should have several different clubs chasing his signature.
It’s difficult to figure out how it’s such a certainty that Keane will return to White Hart Lane. If he’s part of their long-term plans, then why isn’t he there now? Redknapp couldn’t provide Keane with regular first-team football due to the form of Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch, and with Eider Gudjohnsen brought in (on loan) and Roman Pavlychenko going from zero to hero in recent months, surely there will be even less opportunities for Keane. Should Spurs finish fourth in the Premier League and qualify for the Champions League, they will be in a stronger position, in terms of finances and profile, to bring in a striker of a higher standard.
While they may not admit it publicly, Celtic would love to make Keane a permanent signing. Given the season they’ve endured, extending his stay would be a massive PR coup and the fans would have the type of talismanic figure they haven’t seen since Henrik Larsson. However, Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond would have to fund any deal, due to the transfer fee and the wages that would be involved. Convincing Keane to stay for the long-term may also prove to be a problem. Would he want to hang around at a club where most of the playing staff are not at his level? The humiliating Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County merely confirmed how poor the current Celtic side is.
Perhaps the most likely outcome is Keane returning south to another English Premier League side. Aston Villa and Sunderland are rumoured to be interested, and would have no problem in meeting the transfer fee. Keane would be almost guaranteed a regular start, and would be back amongst players of similar, and sometimes higher standard. It remains to be seen how motivated Keane would be by such a move. His really big move, to Liverpool, has come and gone and the top clubs will not be interested.
Ultimately, Robbie Keane must decide what he wants from the remaining years of his career. He could be the big fish in the little pond, were the he is the focal point of the team and everything revolves around him. There would also be the chance of winning silverware. Alternatively, it may be all about the standard of football. After years of playing in one of the world’s top leagues, it could prove difficult to move somewhere else. The one certainty is that this summer, Keane will not be short of offers.