Italy was not ready for Keane


It was probably a simple case of the right player, at the wrong club and at the wrong moment. Even if Inter Milan officials yesterday expressed satisfaction at the £12 million sterling deal taking Robbie Keane from Inter to Leeds United, there remains the sensation that the talented young Irishman's premature return to the English Premiership has seen him miss out on a glorious chance to both improve his game and his international reputation.

When 20-year-old Keane joined Inter last August from Coventry, he was aware of the difficulties he would encounter in fighting for a team place in a club that already had experienced strikers such as Christian Vieri, Ronaldo, Hakan Sukur, Alvaro Recoba and Ivan Zamorano.

Thus it came as no surprise, especially after Vieri's return to full fitness, that in recent weeks Keane been largely confined to the role of reserve.

Until about a month ago, both the player and the club appeared happy with the situation. Keane seemed determined to stick it out and Inter seemed equally determined to hold on to a player of obvious potential.

In the meantime, Keane managed to play 14 times for Inter in league and cup games since August. However, Inter's miserable season to date radically changed the club's plans.

Eliminated from the Champions League in August, struggling in Serie A (currently joint 10th with Perugia), eliminated from the Italian Cup (6-1 by Parma) and not really convinced about their chances of going far in the UEFA Cup (where they meet Spanish side Alaves), Inter have opted to offload a number of players - some of them bought like Robbie Keane just this summer - to free funds for further transfer market activity.

For example, midfielder Vampeta has already returned to Brazil where he is expected to sign for Corinthians, while Zamorano and midfielder Clarence Seedorf are both on the market - in fact, on Wednesday Seedorf refused a move to Turkish side Besiktas.

In that context, when Inter realised the level of English interest in Keane, they had no hesitation in changing previous policy and putting him on the market.

Inter spokesman Sandro Sabatini told The Irish Times last night: "It takes two to make a marriage and two to agree a divorce and we've agreed the divorce. As time went by, Robbie began to realise that it would be in his best interests, just as it was in Inter's best interests, for him to move back to England.

"As soon as we got an offer equal to what we paid for him last August, then the deal was quickly done. Inter were keen to get their money back, but we left the choice of destination to Robbie."

In reality, Keane's final choice was between Chelsea and Leeds with the player clearly preferring the ambitions of David O'Leary's club to the current turmoil at Chelsea.

Though it is easy to understand the motives behind Keane's move, his departure from Italy and from a prestigious club like Inter after just five months is disappointing.

Somewhat unkindly, Milan-based sports daily Gazzetta Dello Sport yesterday commented: "So, in a matter of a few months, Keane's Italian adventure is over. He is clearly a player of great potential but, evidently, he wasn't quite ready for Italian football."

With all due respect, we might suggest that it was Italian football, in this case Inter, that was not quite ready for Keane.

Fulham are ready to make an £8 million sterling move for Barcelona's French international midfielder Emmanuel Petit, according to the London club's official website.

Fulham, owned by multi-millionaire Mohammad Al-Fayed, lead the English first division and seem certain to gain promotion to the Premiership.

But with competition from the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea, Middlesbrough and Paris St Germain for the Frenchman's

signature, Fulham could have their work cut out to lure the former-Arsenal man to Craven Cottage.

Petit recently complained of his lack of involvement in Barcelona's line-up, and was played at left back in Wednesday night's league win over Alaves.

The French first division match between Racing Strasbourg and Metz was abandoned yesterday after a lineswoman was hit by a firecracker thrown by a fan.

Assistant referee Nelly Vienot, the only woman to officiate in the French league, was struck by the missile. The game was abandoned and Vienot was then taken to hospital.