Keane joins Irish set as Inter accept Leeds' offer

 

Robbie Keane will become a Leeds United player today. All that is required now is that he pass a medical this morning after Leeds last night agreed a fee of £12 million with Inter Milan. It will mean that seven months before his 21st birthday the boy from Tallaght will have been bought and sold for £31 million in his career so far.

Keane will be unveiled at a press conference at Elland Road tomorrow and will be available for selection by David O'Leary for Leeds's home game with Aston Villa on Saturday. He is likely to be given the number seven jersey. It is Keane and O'Leary's Christmas present to each other.

For Leeds it is all the more special as they have signed Keane on loan from Inter until the end of the season, delaying payment of the first instalment of the £12 million fee until next summer when it is hoped the deal will ultimately be signed for five years.

For Keane and O'Leary there is extra spice in the fact that in Villa and Newcastle United - whom Leeds visit on St Stephen's Day - Keane will be facing two of the clubs that tried to sign him once it became clear that Inter were prepared to listen to offers.

That was at the beginning of last week and the news brought immediate responses from Villa, Newcastle, Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Sunderland. But it was Leeds, with the Irish connection of O'Leary and Keane's good friends Gary Kelly, Ian Harte and Stephen McPhail who had attracted Keane's attention. The unmistakable ambition of Leeds must also have been a factor - Keane's signing takes O'Leary's spending to £76 million in just over two years - and a further influence on Keane was the advice of David Platt. In Tony Stephens, Keane and Platt share an agent and just as Keane consulted Platt about moving to Italy before he left Coventry City in the summer, he spoke to the Nottingham Forest manager about where to go should he return to England. Platt said Elland Road.

Keane agreed, despite some audacious interest from his first English club Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Leeds chairman, Peter Ridsdale, was thankful last night that Inter had been flexible in their dealings with Keane. Although the Italians would have taken £12 million of anyone's money they left the ultimate decision on Keane's destination to the player himself.

Moreover, once Keane was adamant Leeds was to be his next club, Inter had to bow to the financial reality that Leeds's free spending has left the club's bank account battered. After buying Mark Viduka, Olivier Dacourt and Dominic Matteo in the summer and then Rio Ferdinand last month - for £18 million - Leeds simply cannot afford £12 million at this point.

Ridsdale did not put it as bluntly as that of course. "After spending £18 million on Rio Ferdinand we felt it imprudent to spend another £12 million immediately," said Ridsdale. "But by getting Robbie on loan we have got the player we want without it impacting on our finances.

"I would like to thank Inter Milan for their co-operation on this deal because there was a huge amount of interest in Robbie. It is to their credit they asked him which club he preferred. We are delighted he chose us."

Neither O'Leary nor Keane would comment last night but Keane must have been reflecting on the nature of football's fame game. At the start of the year 2000 Keane had been a Coventry player scoring against Chelsea. By July not only had Keane said goodbye to Coventry but he had joined one of the biggest clubs in world football for £13 million. One of the other strikers there was called Ronaldo.

At his tender age Keane impresses everyone with his maturity but even he must have been taken aback by the turn of events. Then Inter had a bad opening to their European and domestic campaign, coach Marcello Lippi was sacked and his replacement Marco Tardelli seemed to be less keen on Robbie than his predecessor.

Elsewhere, however, many remained keen and once Leeds got the nod from the player last week it was only a matter of time before Leeds and Keane were sharing a common future. Beginning today.