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Friday 9 December 2016

Shane may play Long ball game

Saints' insistence that Irish striker is not for sale can be taken with a pinch of salt

Southampton’s Irish striker Shane Long celebrates with James Ward-Prowse, who hit the Saints’ second goal in the Premier League win over West Bromwich Albion at St Mary’s on Saturday.
Southampton’s Irish striker Shane Long celebrates with James Ward-Prowse, who hit the Saints’ second goal in the Premier League win over West Bromwich Albion at St Mary’s on Saturday.

Seven days, seven short days. That was the gap between a formal complaint to the Premier League from Spurs about the "disgraceful" public pursuit by Liverpool of Robbie Keane, a player they had "no interest in selling", and the conclusion of a £20million deal to sell the Ireland striker to the Anfield club.

So comments coming out of the respective camps at Southampton and Liverpool about a tasty-looking deal, or no deal at all under any circumstances, for Shane Long before the transfer window closes next month can be taken with a large dollop of cynicism.

If one of the parties has enough money and nerves to make the deal go through, it will go through and Long, as he has done with his recent, unplanned moves to Hull and Southampton, will pack his bags, break the news to the family that they're on the move again, and go.

Long could, possibly, spend the week ahead of his 29th birthday on Friday preparing for the fourth big-money move of his career, as this suggested £8million transfer to Liverpool would take his dealings on the transfer market since his move from Cork City to £33.5m.

How much? Should not be the key question for the Long camp if a deal is to be put on the table but rather: do you really want me?

In a week when Brendan Rodgers admitted that the signing of Mario Balotelli was not his idea but that of the Anfield club's owners, Long should take time to check in with Robbie Keane and do some homework on the Ireland captain's move to Liverpool in 2008.

Spurs were very happy to sell, Reds fan Robbie was keen to go to his boyhood heroes but, as we soon learned, Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was not all that bothered about signing the Dubliner. "It didn't work out because he wasn't the manager's signing," was Mick McCarthy's view, a view many shared.

So the only thing Long needs to know for certain is whether Jurgen Klopp wants him on Merseyside. Klopp's comments after yesterday's defeat to Manchester United saw some hints that they could be interested in a player like Long. "It's not only finishing," he said when asked if Liverpool's problem in that game, and since his arrival, is a clinical touch in front of goal, hinting that a different approach in their forward play could be needed. And they did leave Christian Benteke, a player who is younger (25) and more costly (£32m) than Long on the bench until the last 10 minutes, perhaps a sign that Benteke - signed by Klopp's predecessor - is not all there.

Because his side were not involved on Saturday, Klopp would have had time to sit back and watch Match of The Day like the rest of us and marvel in Long's performance in Southampton's 3-0 win over West Brom, as Long's work-rate and class played a big part in that win and had a significant role in the two goals which came from open play.

The other angle in all this was the deal done by Long's club to bring in another striker, £4m man Charlie Austin.

Southampton insist that Austin's arrival was not done to pave the way for the Tipperary-born forward's exit.

"We've brought in more competition for the strikers. We've brought one player in but still nobody will go out," said manager Ronald Koeman.

Chairman Ralph Krueger was on the same page. "I think that players coming in and out here in the last two weeks is not in the plan... ideal would be to keep all those names in the line-up," he said.

If Klopp does want Long, a move to Anfield could bring the Ireland man's game on to another level. But just as Robbie Keane's confidence took a bad beating at Anfield, the last thing Ireland need in a European Championship year is for Long to move, land on the bench and stew his way into regression.

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