the news last night that Robbie Keane was edging ever closer to the exit door at White Hart Lane did not come as much of a surprise.
It has been clear for some time that the 30-year-old was surplus to requirements under Harry Redknapp and that a parting of the ways during the January transfer window was inevitable.
Birmingham City and West Ham United quickly emerged as potential destinations, only for any hopes of a move to St Andrews to break down amid accusations from Keane that the Midlands club had never been seriously interested.
That left the Hammers, who sources in London suggest are ready to follow up their initial interest with a ‘hire purchase’-style proposal that will see an initial payment made to Spurs of around £1m with a more sizeable sum then being due should Avram Grant’s side stay up.
No doubt, Keane, whose combined transfer fees come to just under £80m, will be welcomed into the East End as a hero and may well prove to be the man to fire West Ham out of trouble.
Even so, it is hard to escape the feeling that a move to a club propping up the Premier League at the age of just 30 is not how it was supposed to work out for a striker who once became Britain’s most expensive teenager when Wolves paid Coventry City £6m in 1999 and then subsequently joined Inter Milan for more than double just a year later.
Likewise, his return to England and a fast-emerging Leeds United was supposed to reignite a career that had stalled during six months at the San Siro due to a change of manager – as was his move to boyhood heroes Liverpool in 2008.
All were supposed to act as a catalyst for a career that had begun amid huge promise but now seems destined to be filed away under ‘unfulfilled potential’.
Keane is, of course, the Republic’s all-time top goalscorer with 45 goals – an admirable tally for a country whose last successful qualification campaign was the 2002 World Cup. He also showed in Japan and South Korea an ability to perform at the highest level with three goals in four appearances as the Irish went out on penalties to Spain in the second round.
But, even so, there is a sense that Keane has not delivered what he once promised.
Just why that should be the case is difficult to pinpoint exactly. Maybe he had too many moves as a young player, a suggestion that has followed him round since moving from Wolves to Inter to Leeds and then, finally, to Tottenham inside just two years.
Was he an unfortunate victim of circumstances? This could certainly be argued at Inter where Marcello Lippi was sacked as manager and replaced by Marco Tardelli, who clearly didn’t rate the Irishman. Also, joining a Leeds squad already boasting five top-class strikers was probably a mistake – as illustrated by 18 of his 46 Premier League appearances for the Yorkshire club having come from the bench. When signing for Liverpool, Keane could also not have predicted that Rafael Benitez would develop a sudden reluctance to play a striker who he had bought for £20m. Or that, after returning to White Hart Lane, the partner who had so complemented his style (Dimitar Berbatov) so wonderfully was sold.
Whatever the true reason, his impending move to West Ham represents a step down in the career of a striker who, once upon a time, seemed destined to rise to the very top.