Rafael Benitez is weighing up an offer from Tottenham Hotspur of Aaron Lennon or Jermaine Jenas plus cash in exchange for his disaffected striker Robbie Keane. In what would be one of the most remarkable transfers in recent history, Harry Redknapp would be prepared to let one of his two young English players leave in return for bringing Keane back to Spurs.
There are still many variables at play, the most important being whether Keane, 28, wants to move back to the club that he left for a deal worth around £20.3m in the summer. The deal would mean that Liverpool would not have to pay the remaining balance, estimated at £11m, due for Keane in the original transfer. The two clubs first raised the possibility on Monday night.
Keane is in the Liverpool squad for tonight's Premier League game against Wigan Athletic, although Benitez was evasive yesterday when asked whether he believed the Irishman had a future at Anfield. Keane is known to want to stay and fight for his place at the club but increasingly it would appear that Benitez is prepared to use him as a bargaining chip to bolster his squad as the title race warms up.
Redknapp has met with the Lyons striker Fred – short for Frederico Chaves Guedes – but the Brazilian, who is out of contract in the summer, is still only a secondary target after Keane. The 25-year-old has a decent goalscoring record but Keane would be Redknapp's first choice. The deal for Keane would be complicated even if the two clubs can agree on terms. It would rely upon Keane and either Lennon or Jenas being prepared to make the move.
Should Keane have wanted clarification on his future from Benitez, he will have been interested to know that the Liverpool manager was given five opportunities to dismiss any doubt over the striker's future yesterday but opted to leave the issue open-ended.
"Clearly he is our player and in the squad for tomorrow, and that's it," was all Benitez would say. When asked whether he wanted to sell him in this transfer window, Benitez said: "I want to see him scoring goals. I don't need to sell any players. We are in the title race, I want to keep all the players. We don't need to sell anyone."
That contrasted with Benitez's response when Manchester City's new owners' former figurehead, Sulaiman Al-Fahim, listed Fernando Torres among those players Sheikh Mansour al-Nahyan coveted, back in September. Benitez said yesterday: "We have had four or five approaches from different teams for players and the answer's been the same for them all – no. We want all our players. We don't want to sell. Robbie could be one of the ones we had an approach about, I won't say."
Lennon and Jenas had both been acquired by Tottenham on the basis that they fitted the club's former policy of buying young English talent. Lennon was bought from Leeds United by Frank Arnesen when he was the club's director of football for the budget price of £1m. The winger has interested Benitez before and he would be an appealing alternative to Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun on the right wing. Jenas is currently injured.
Keane was stunned to be told that David Ngog, the young French striker who is yet to start a league game, would replace him in the squad for Sunday's FA Cup derby with Everton. But Benitez insisted that he did not see fit to explain his thinking to Keane, one-to-one, at Liverpool's Melwood training ground. "I talk to all the players," Benitez said. "When you sign a player, the price doesn't matter. The main thing is just that they work hard like the rest. It was clear we had Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres, Gerrard playing as a second striker and also David Ngog, so we had lots of options if we needed to change.
"He [Keane] knows he can play better. Everyone knows he's better than the one we are watching on the pitch sometimes," the Liverpool manager said. "When you sign them you have to give them time. Some take longer than others. Some just need a month, others a year."
Spurs are expected to make a decision today whether to sign the midfielder Stephen Appiah.