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Americans Abroad

Keller, Vanney face uncertain situations with clubs overseas.

By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
SoccerTimes

(Thursday, July 8, 2004) -- United States goalkeeper Kasey Keller and defender Greg Vanney face uncertain futures in Europe despite remaining under contract to their clubs. Both teams suffered through disappointing 2003-04 seasons, fired their coaches and shook up management.

Keller has played virtually every minute of the last two seasons for Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs had a generally poor season, last year, leading manager Glenn Hoddle to be fired in September with the club's director of football David Pleat appointing himself interim coach. By all accounts, Keller performed bravely throughout the 2003-04 campaign behind a very questionable defense, but the team's 13-19-6 record and 14th-place finish in the England's Premier League did not sit well with management, so Pleat took action in the final weeks of the season.

Pleat won a bidding war for Leeds United keeper Paul Robinson, a 24-year-old who had made 119 appearances since his debut in 1998 and was the club's top keeper for the past two seasons. Robinson has begun playing for England's national team, making his debut against Australia in February 2003 as a second-half substitute, and also later played the second half against South Africa. Last year, he appeared in friendlies against Croatia and Denmark and is considered England's keeper of the future.

Then, Pleat grabbed Hungarian youth Marton Fulop, considered one of the best young keepers in Europe.

When Spurs' season ended, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said changes needed to be made with his first move to fire Pleat. Levy brought in Dutchman Frank Arnesen as head of soccer operations and then hired French national-team coach Jacques Santini as the team's new manager.

The English media has speculated that Robinson will be Spurs' starting keeper. He might have received guarantees of being the starter when he signed his contract, but with new management, the situation is unclear. Keller, for his part, says he simply does not know.

"Look, the guys who brought him (Robinson) in aren't there anymore," Keller recently told SoccerTimes. "I really have no idea what to expect. I see that the papers saying one thing, but I have been told the opposite. I'll just have to go back and see what happens."

Competing for the starter's role is nothing new for Keller. When he went to Rayo Vallencano in Spain, he came in as the backup to Spain's national keeper Julen Lopetegui. Keller eventually won the starters job and sent Lopetegui to the bench but, at the time, he did voice the difficulty he felt knowing any mistake he made could send him to the bench for an extended period.

"Yes, that's difficult, but it's what you have to do sometime" he said. "You don't like it, but you live with it."

Keller isn't sure what the future holds for him. He is entering the final year of his Tottenham contract and says he has no indication that the team is trying to deal him. The English media has speculated that Spurs might be willing to make him a free transfer and that Fulham would be interested should Dutch keeper Edwin van der Saar leave. Crystal Palace could make a move for him and Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp is also reportedly interested.

As for the longer term, Keller is excited about the prospect of playing for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Seattle, near his hometown of Lacey, should such a team be established. "You know that for a long time I have said that I would like to finish my career back here in the U.S.," he said. "I'm 34, I feel good, I am in good physical condition and I think I have a number of years left. Seattle would be perfect. I think it would be a perfect market for MLS."

Vanney's situation with Bastia in France is unclear after he had an up-and-down 2003-04 season, starting 19 of the team's 38 matches in a 9-17-12 year. Much of the time, he was either injured or out of favor.

Bastia remains a team in crisis, having finished 17th out of 20 teams and avoided relegation from the French Ligue 1 to Ligue 2 by one point. Amid charges of mismanagement, the entire front office staff was fired. Multari, the chairman of Bastia since April, brought in AS Saint-Etienne director Christian Villanova as general manager while Gerard Gili was fired as manager, replaced by François Ciccolini.

Vanney, who left MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy for France two seasons ago, has two years left on his contract with Bastia. Just before leaving to begin preseason training, he told SoccerTimes he has no idea what to expect.

"I think I knew where I stood with Gili," he said. "I have never met the new coach.. You just hope that you're in his plans, or that he'll at least give you the opportunity to show what you can do for the team. We'll see. I don't know what to expect."

Vanney said he is most comfortable playing as the left defender in a four-back formation. Many teams in France play with three backs and a sweeper or defensive midfielder, while Bastia switched back and forth last season from using three or four defenders. Vanney said he is unaware what Ciccolini prefers.

Bastia is the capital of the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. It is a major vacation destination and Vanney says he and his wife Amy have enjoyed their stay. "But it's a vacation place, not someplace to make your home," he added

Vanney says he wants to stay in Europe and, with the future at Bastia uncertain, he says his agent has begun to look for other opportunities. He could very well remain at Bastia, or he could be on his way to another team in France, or elsewhere.

"I wish things were more settled, but you learn to live with it, he said.

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.

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