Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish has made a habit of flattering Robbie Keane during his meetings with the press over the past couple of months, but he heaped praise upon the on-loan Ireland captain with good reason after Villa's 3-2 win at Wolves on Saturday.
Keane displayed his predatory instincts on two occasions to decide the derby at Molineux and push McLeish's side into its familiar midtable surroundings.
The vintage double prompted queries about McLeish's interest in a permanent deal for the well-traveled forward. As one might expect given the circumstances, the former Birmingham City and Scotland boss did not dismiss the idea out of hand.
“It is up to Robbie,” McLeish told the Sunday Mercury (Birmingham). “If he feels he wants to come back, I’m sure there would be some welcoming arms. I would like to think we’d be interested.”
If a bid does develop before the transfer window slams shut at the end of January, then it would present quite the poser for Keane and the Galaxy.
For a Los Angeles side never lacking for potential high-profile additions, it could present an opportunity that may prove too lucrative to resist. It isn't ideal to move a high-profile signing elsewhere so soon after his arrival, but the prospect of selling Keane back to a Premier League side less than a year after securing his signature for an undisclosed fee from Tottenham represents good business for the Galaxy. Between the potential sum in that permanent switch and the six-figure tariff and sizable wage contribution already secured during this brief loan spell, the Galaxy would have likely enjoyed Keane's services for that all important MLS Cup run for a relatively minimal expense.
Although Keane has embraced his American experience and settled into the squad well, he isn't irreplaceable as the Galaxy's third Designated Player. Los Angeles could scour the market for a forward without the allure of Euro 2012 to distract from the summer's toil or select a midfield player to inject a bit of guile in the attacking third and push Landon Donovan closer to goal. With the lifestyle and the significant wage packet on offer in southern California, the Galaxy likely wouldn't struggle to locate a capable and willing replacement. In the business-first landscape of MLS, the swap of a 31-year-old striker for a tidy amount of compensation makes considerable sense.
Keane's consent, however, could offer more of a stumbling block. The crafty striker can lean on his years of Premier League experience to note that his place in the Villa starting XI isn't assured despite McLeish's vociferous backing on Saturday. An extended spell on the bench – more likely than not at some stage, given the former Liverpool and Tottenham man's appearance history for his past few top-flight sides – would hinder his preparations to lead his country in Poland this summer, while a quick return to England would also raise questions about the motivations behind his American move last year.
The last point – with all of its associated trappings – could prove the most persuasive. Keane has already brushed aside any inquiries about a potential permanent move to Villa or any other Premier League side during this transfer window and cited the American experience as the reason for his coolness to the idea.
“Come back permanently? No. I am quite happy in the MLS,” Keane told the Sunday Mirror earlier this month. “I have really enjoyed the three months I have had there so far. It is a great lifestyle out there for the family. It’s nice to have the opportunity to come back for a couple of months, but when that ends I am looking forward to getting back with the Galaxy. I was having the time off that I wanted, but then I got some phone calls and when one of them was from Villa it was a club I felt immediately I would be comfortable with, because of the people I already know there.”
Keane's willingness to change course on his previously stated desire to reject a short loan spell this winter suggests room for compromise exists. A few phone calls – and, perhaps, a gentle nudge or two from Ireland teammates Richard Dunne and Shay Given – persuaded him to make a temporary switch to Villa in January. Could a successful loan spell inspire another reassessment of his situation at the end of the month?
Only time will show whether McLeish will land his man on a permanent basis or whether Keane will – as he stated and nearly everyone expects – return to southern California in time for the start of the MLS season. As this dilemma unfolds, the Galaxy may just find themselves best served by keeping their options open and working with Keane to facilitate a permanent return to English football if he eventually decides to pursue a move.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.