Birmingham will face competition from West Ham United, who have balked at Tottenham Hotspur's demands for Keane but not ruled out resurrecting their interest later in the window when they expect negotiations to be more favourable.
Spurs are asking anyone interested in taking Keane on loan until the end of the season to cover his £65,000-a-week wages in full and pay £6m in the summer to make the move long-term. It is understood West Ham were also told that Keane and Spurs would want a further £1m each in bonuses should the club stay up. Those terms, however, will almost certainly change if Keane, who has started only two Premier League games for Spurs this season, is still at White Hart Lane when the transfer window draws to a close.
McLeish had initially suggested he would have to utilise the loan market next month but he is hopeful the Birmingham board will recognise the importance of strengthening the team as relegation rivals make plans to do likewise. Birmingham have struggled for goals and McLeish feels that weakness has to be addressed. Keane, he believes, would be the answer.
"It's a difficult market but we're working together with the board to try and bring in some enhancement in the forward area," the Birmingham manager said. "That's the priority because I think we're solid enough defensively, in midfield we've got a lot of players, so we're really looking to do something in the front area. I've got fast and speedy with Cameron [Jerome] and I've got tall [with Nikola Zigic]. I'm looking for a bit of guile and know-how."
Keane fits that description and is known to be McLeish's preferred choice. Although the 30-year-old is likely to be an expensive option, even if Spurs reduce their current demands, Birmingham made significant seven-figure bids for several players in the summer that failed to come off. McLeish will hope to have access to some of those funds to improve his squad next month.
"We spoke in the summer about bringing some players in and we missed out on one or two. We did speak about regrouping in January," the Birmingham manager said. "I'll ask the board the question if I identify one that I think would really make a difference and it can only be a 'yes' or a 'no'."
Birmingham face a tough festive period that starts with a visit to Everton on Boxing Day followed by home matches against Manchester United and Arsenal and a trip to Blackpool. "Every point's a prisoner," said McLeish. "But we proved earlier in the season that we can take points when they're least expected.
"We went to Man City and took a point, we went to Fulham and took a point, we beat Chelsea and we drew with Spurs. So we ended up taking six points out of 12 and I think many expected us to take zip. We've got two games at home, against Man United and Arsenal, and we know that they don't relish coming to St Andrew's."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010