I remember it well. Keane was a blossoming teenage talent, just down the road at Wolves, back then (we're talking 1997, 1998, around that time) a division below Villa, while Villa were undeniably the top team in the Midlands (I'd still say we are now, all things considered, but Wolves, West Brom and, stretching the geographical boundaries a tad, Stoke, are all becoming pretty established in the Premier League to challenge that status and, of course, Birmingham have also had reasonable success in the top flight of late) and sniffing around the top end of the table under John Gregory. It was the era of Gareth Southgate, Ian Taylor, Dion Dublin and Paul Merson, and Gregory had put together a decent team.
Keane to Villa was a cert. It had to be. Villa were a little light up front, Keane was a bright young goalscorer, and he was gettable, too. In the summer of 1999, the move was on; Gregory signed George Boateng, from Coventry, to toughen up his midfield, and then focused his sights on Keane... and Keane signed for... Coventry. Villa fans groaned. A missed opportunity. As was the way with almost everything Villa at the time, the non-transfer was the fault of chairman Doug Ellis, ever the scrutiniser of purse strings. Doug wouldn't pay the money, came the mutterings from the fans.
That was until the publication of Gregory's autobiography, when the Villa manager discussed Keane. Having been divided over Boateng or Keane, Gregory was given the green light by Ellis to sign both players. He secured Boateng and then watched Keane in action on a handful of occasions; it was the manager's judgement that Keane was promising, but not worth the £6m Wolves were looking for. Gregory passed. Coventry did not.
It was an expensive misjudgement, and not just because of what Keane could have brought to Villa (I recall our sterile FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea in May 2000). After just one season at Coventry, Keane was sold to Inter Milan for £13m. He made little impact in Italy and was quickly loaned to Leeds United, the move becoming permanent later on, but no matter: Keane had now effectively been priced out of Villa's market. Leeds spent £12m on him. The next time he was anywhere near affordable was when Spurs capitalised on Leeds' financial woes and picked him up for just £7m - but at that time, Villa had cash restraints of their own.
And so, Keane has always drawn covetable glances from Villa fans. The player who got away. When his move to Liverpool backfired and he found himself back at Spurs, and then loaned to Celtic, the possibility of a switch to Villa seemed likely again: indeed, in the last few weeks of Martin O'Neill's reign we were linked heavily with Keane and another Celtic player, Aiden McGeady (then again, that was the O'Neill era for you - anyone with a remote affinity to Celtic was linked to Villa). Nothing came of it - maybe it would have done had O'Neill stayed - and Keane returned to Spurs, was then loaned to West Ham (he scored for the Hammers against Villa last season) and, finally, to LA Galaxy.
But now, Villa have Keane, at last. It's ridiculously short-term, not even the two month loan deal widely reported. He'll apparently be available up to and including our match at Wigan on February 25, so, in real terms, Robbie Keane will be a Villa player for around six weeks. He will hopefully give the team a quick boost, but will more likely just start finding his feet before the deal finishes.
Still, it's a move that makes sense for Villa. Manager Alex McLeish hardly has a lot to play with in terms of transfer funds this January, so he has to do what he can, and there is no-one to rival Keane in the current Villa squad in the manner of the Irishman; no other player who can fit that deeper-lying striker role, who make a chance as effortlessly as he can take a chance.
Keane made a brief cameo role on Saturday, coming off the bench against Everton. Just having that option, rather than calling on a struggling Heskey, or the underused Nathan Delfouneso, or the raw Andreas Weimann, could prove useful in the next few weeks. Better late than never, as they say.