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Could Robbie Make a Keane Striker in Vancouver?

Could struggling Tottenham forward Robbie Keane become Vancouver's first designated player? (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Could struggling Tottenham forward Robbie Keane become Vancouver's first designated player? (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Sundays are no news days! Usually I don't even bother to write on a Sunday because, well, why would I? Nothing ever happens, there's never anything to say. Most sensible people are sleeping until three in the afternoon and eating a truly alarmingly amount of awful food (at least, I am). Even the great games in Europe were usually the day before. Sunday is the day the soccer gods invented so we could go do something else, like play soccer.

That said, it's a great day to discuss a baseless rumour. And, last week, The Sun in England (not to be confused with the Vancouver Sun, although it's a natural mistake to make) gave us a great one. Robbie Keane is being linked with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The link appears to be "Robbie Keane is not playing much. Robbie Keane is at Spurs. Hey, Paul Barber was at Spurs!" but it's a link. Also, judging by the headline the Sun seems to think we're the Vancouver, Washington Whitecaps. I'm going to go ahead and say they didn't have their best football columnist on that one.

It's so easy to make fun of that rumour. Even easier than that hysterical Petr Cech rumour was not so long ago. And I will make fun of it. But that mockery is going to be tempered by a certain amount of serious reflection and analysis. Not because I think the report is legitimate (I mean, it was in the Sun), but because I think that Robbie Keane might not only be available for Vancouver, he'd actually make a really, really nice designated player.

The great thing about the Whitecaps chasing as well-known a player as Robbie Keane is that I don't need to introduce him. Although it feels like Keane has been around forever and played with every team in Europe, he's actually only thirty years old. Plenty of players have succeeded in Major League Soccer with a lot more years under their belts. Moreover, just last season Keane managed 12 goals in 16 appearances with Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, and he's managed a goal every two appearances with the Irish national team in 2010 despite a lack of match practice. Just because he can't crack the Tottenham first eleven doesn't mean Keane is washed up: Tottenham has been a very lively team in the English Premier League this season and he's got plenty of recent scoring history.

Even better, unlike some rumoured washed-up designated players, Keane is no prima donna. He's always had a reputation for being a hard trainer and a good worker. He's a tough player who takes no nonsense and is more than athletic enough to score his share in Major League Soccer. If Keane only scored as often in MLS as he has been with Ireland, he'd be a valued addition to the scoring-starved Vancouver lineup. This is no Thierry Henry, brought in for publicity. Not only is Keane a well-known player of international reputation, but he can bloody well play.

There were reports earlier this month that Keane had been in discussion with Toronto FC, but these reports came from sources even less reliable than the Sun and were picked up by no reputable outlet. Given the difficulty Tottenham has experienced in finding a taker for Keane, Robbie might just be interested in giving Vancouver a try. Our artificial turf at Empire Field and BC Place is rumoured to be a stumbling block for many of the less intelligent, more self-conscious European players, but if any star has had the attitude to get beyond that Robbie Keane has.

Of course, when we talk about bringing in a player like Keane, we have to talk about money. Keane has two and a half years left on his contract, and Major League Soccer hates paying transfer fees. But that won't be as much of a problem as you might think. Keane has been on the outs at White Hart Lane for some time, and when I asked Kevin McCauley of Cartilage Free Captain for his opinion, he said that the only reason Keane was even still with Spurs was that Tottenham had literally been unable to even give Keane away. If Keane could agree to terms with the Vancouver Whitecaps, a transfer fee would be no problem: Tottenham would just be glad to get rid of his £65,000 per week wage bill and open up that money for somebody who would actually play.

The other side of that equation, obviously, is that Vancouver would have to come up with something to match a £65,000 per week wage. At current exchange rates £65,000 is $103,453 Canadian dollars: Keane is being paid more in a week than a large part of the Whitecaps roster will make in a year. Signing Keane as a designated player would reduce his impact on the salary cap and the Whitecaps are co-owned by billionaire Greg Kerfoot. The money is there. But even if it's available that's an awful lot of money to hazard on one player. Part of the job of any designated player is to serve as a famous name that can sell tickets, and Robbie Keane is no David Beckham. If the Whitecaps paid Keane's full contract value, he would be on the Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez level of the highest-paid non-Beckham designated players. It's not an unprecedented amount, but for a first-year team it would be. Freddie Ljungberg only signed in Seattle for $2.5 million per season when they joined the league, and since then not only did the Seattle Sounders decide to get rid of him, but his new club is currently trying. Keane would have no financial reason to take a pay cut, either, as with his Tottenham contract running through the 2012-13 season he knows he's going to get paid.

If Robbie Keane were to become a Vancouver Whitecap, he'd have to decide that leaving the glory of the English Premier League and going to a temporary stadium on plastic turf would be worth playing every day and having a team built around him. The Whitecaps would have to decide that a striker like Keane is worth spending millions of dollars per season on. Tottenham would have to be talked into giving up Keane free of charge (though that shouldn't be difficult). Major League Soccer, of course, would have to be convinced that the contract would be good value to the league. It's a long list of difficult achievements just to make negotiations with Keane realistic.

With that said, if the Whitecaps could seal the deal and bring Keane in as a designated player for two or three seasons? To acquire an accomplished goal-scorer in the best leagues in Europe with plenty of years left on his odometer, just because he happens to be at the bottom of his value right now? That could potentially be a brilliant piece of work.