The 'H' factor brings a new lease of life for old-hand Kiely

Redknapp charm is vital for the keeper who had become Charlton's forgotten man
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The Independent Football

Not deemed good enough to be in your struggling club's reserve side on Tuesday, you are transferred on Wednesday, have your first training session on Friday and told you're in to face the champions of Europe on Sunday: only the FA Cup would have the cheek to get away with such a storyline.

Except Dean Kiely is not the magical urn's usual "sink or swim" yarn; in fact nothing like it. The 35-year-old is not being thrown in at the deep end so much as being calmed down from performing a twist, tuck and pike back into it. "Been there, done that, can't wait to do it again," is the new Portsmouth goalkeeper's summing up of a debut that Harry Redknapp looks likely to hand him against Liverpool at Fratton Park this evening.

This would come at the expense of the talented, but raw Jamie Ashdown as English football's lesser Russian revolution starts to claim its inevitable victims. And of all the £11m - and counting - that Redknapp has prised out of Alexandre Gaydamak's investment to chuck through that transfer window, none might prove as wisely directed as this £500,000 to Charlton. For the long fight ahead, Harry needs his characters, although perhaps not the sort of "character" that singled out Laurent Robert. No, Kiely is "out on his own" in focus only.

"Look, I'm a low maintenance player," he said as he walked off the Wellington Training Ground two days ago, all mud, sweat, and smiles as he revelled being back in meaningful employment. "I don't go kicking and screaming and demanding this, that and the other. I'm an employee of the club. I know my job description."

Kiely always has - indeed he has become something of a role model because of it - and that's what has made Alan Curbishley's treatment of the Republic of Ireland international these past few months so baffling. For so long the bedrock at The Valley, perhaps it should have taken more to shift him than the few dislocated fingers that stalled his season's start. "I was flying before that," said Kiely, his head shaking at what happened next.

Charlton soared and as quickly nosedived, but not even when the goals began rushing past them did the manager opt for for his old No 1. Why? Kiely refuses to - or maybe cannot - shed any light on it, although he will concede the split seemed irrevocable enough for him to break the habit of a lifetime, if not quite the gaffer's door down. "Like I said, it's not in my nature to go banging on doors," he said, with a hint of Brummie in his northern lilt. "But I'm not a fringe player. I've been a pro for 18 years and for 16 1/2 of those I've been in the first team. So I felt it was a necessity to go and see Curbs and make my point, not disrespectfully, thumping the table or anything, just as two adults having a conversation.

"Charlton took my point and I hope that was down to the good job I'd done for them in six and a half wonderful years. You know, there is a 25ft statue of Sam Bartram in the car park there, and it's nice to think that I was second only to him in the all-time goalkeeper lists and that I hold the record for the number of clean sheets in a season."

What Portsmouth would give for one or two of those, if not tonight then more pressingly in a few Premiership must-win games, at home to Bolton on Tuesday and at Newcastle on Saturday. Ignoring a League table that has only the condemned men of Sunderland beneath and whipped up by that intoxicating cocktail of Roubles and Redknapp, conviction runs high in the old garrison town. And Kiely is already a believer.

As if reading from Milan Mandaric's hymn sheet, he spoke of his "pleasure" at being "at a club where people don't just turn up to watch a Premiership product but to support their team" and of his "excitement" at "joining in the infancy of something great being built". There was even a nod in the direction of Ashdown, who he swore was happy to see him. "Look goalies are goalies are goalies the world over," he said, suspiciously sounding like he was trying to convince himself. "There's an affinity between us. We all do the same job."

But most of all there was the recurring theme of the Harry Factor being the over-riding enticement. "I've never worked with him professionally," Kiely revealed. "But what stuck for me is that when I met him at Sandown Park a while back, instead of just a fleeting 'hello, how are you'? as we passed in the corridor he took time, saying things like 'I saw you play last week, this was good, what about this, what about that'? and actually talked to me. It wasn't a chore for Harry, it wasn't a hardship, it was genuinely what he wanted to do. Players remember that."

And managers remember match-winning performances, rather like one by a goalkeeper at Anfield a few years ago allowing Charlton to complete a treasured double that season. Memories like that makes blind selection all the easier. "I don't think I'll encounter anything that will faze me or throw me," he said. "I'm not a kid just starting out with a question mark over my head asking 'can I play at this level, can I do this, can I do that'? I know my stats - I've played 644 games and kept 214 clean sheets - and I know what's required. I've come here with a tried and tested tag." How he yearns for it to read "trusted" again.

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