Sport Soccer

Sunday 26 February 2017

LA story

How did Robbie Keane go from top Premier League striker to the verge of the MLS?

Robbie had a loan spell with West Ham last season in which he could not prevent the team being relegated. Photo: Getty Images
Robbie had a loan spell with West Ham last season in which he could not prevent the team being relegated. Photo: Getty Images

A penny for Robbie Keane's thoughts as the new Premier League season kicked off without him. Perhaps a dollar would be more appropriate.

How has it come to this? On a weekend packed with positive homegrown stories, Ireland's captain and record goalscorer was on the brink of a switch to LA Galaxy; a team who operate in a league regarded as a home for has-beens and might-bes.

It's not as though Keane is past his sell-by date. Sure, he's past his peak, but his June display for Ireland in Macedonia served as a reminder that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

After all, he turned 31 in July. That's just two years older than Wes Hoolahan, who completed his long journey to the top flight with a goalscoring debut on Saturday. Four years younger than Shay Given who, while admittedly lining out in a position with a longer shelf life, proved that some class is permanent on his league bow for Aston Villa.

With £7m man Shane Long making a fine start to his West Brom adventure, Kevin Doyle returning with purpose for Wolves, Richard Dunne energised by a clean slate at Aston Villa and Damien Duff marauding the flanks for Fulham, it seems wrong for Keane to be removed from it and ready to enter a different kind of circus.

The uncomfortable reality is that the Tallaght man has failed to receive an acceptable top-flight offer to end his miserable second stint at Spurs. Clubs he would like to join aren't coming forward. Others are put off by his price tag, anticipated salary demands and his desire for a long-term contract.

Spurs want him off their books. Keane has a year left on his contract and this summer the White Hart Lane authorities stressed they would favour getting a fee -- £3m would do -- and a weekly saving of £70,000 on the wage bill instead of sending their ex-skipper on loan again and losing him on a free next year.

With Premier League clubs baulking, the only English outfit to come forward with a firm offer last week were Leicester, who are behaving like an entity with the resources to buy promotion. Sven-Goran Eriksson will be a busy man between now and August 31.

Keane's insistence earlier this week that a drop to the Championship was out of the question poured cold water on that suggestion. They appear to have the funds at the Walkers Stadium to match his cash demands. But the deal on the table at LA Galaxy is worth over £50,000 a week. So the next category is the lifestyle; Leicester or Los Angeles? Ok, you can understand the preference for California on that score.

The big question, however, is what Keane's decision to allow his representatives begin serious discussions with the MLS outfit says about his football ambitions.

If he wanted to play at the highest level possible, then he would swallow his pride and take the Leicester option.

Yet there's a sense that Keane is unwilling to contemplate dropping to a level in the English tier below where he spent the best years of his career. America is a form of escapism that can be passed off as embarking on an experiment, similar to how David Beckham justified his lucrative switch.

Yet, while the MLS is growing, Keane effectively damned it with his own words when it emerged at the beginning of this year that LA Galaxy were on his trail.

He acknowledged the link and admitted that the prospect of moving to warmer, more glamorous climes would appeal one day; his wife, Claudine, has gone on record to say she would like such a move.

Alas, Keane stressed that it would be another transfer away; hinting that he had unfinished business in the English top flight. The West Ham switch proved a disastrous stopgap -- it would have become permanent if they had escaped the trapdoor.

Last Tuesday, he made a firm statement of intent about his desire to remain in the Premier League. Within a couple of days, he was forced to re-evaluate that stance, with the MLS international transfer deadline (5am this morning Irish time) adding haste to the American situation.

The caveat which emerged yesterday was that Keane is looking to emulate Beckham by receiving permission for a winter return to Europe, ostensibly to avoid a situation where he is out of practice for Irish duty.

Galaxy have allowed Beckham and Landon Donovan to do the same. By seeking the stipulation, the Keane camp acknowledged that spending an entire year in the States would represent a relegation of status.

The player might be willing to spend a couple of months engaged in a battle with the drop at a Blackburn or QPR -- two clubs who have expressed interest -- but he doesn't want to end his career there after operating at a high level since bursting onto the scene as a precocious teenager at Wolves.

Either way, his standing with Giovanni Trapattoni is secure. The Irish manager has already said that a switch to the US would be fine. As far as the 72-year-old is concerned, any kind of regular action is preferable to stagnation in the background at Spurs.

Experience

Indeed, there was an insight into the Italian's thinking when he quipped last week that he would like to see his talisman play more games, but not too much. Trapattoni thinks that the English schedule is bruising, and the priority is to have Keane in one piece.

Furthermore, he is confident that the well-travelled goal poacher has so much experience that he can switch it back on in the international arena regardless of where he plies his trade week to week. A brace in Macedonia coming off the back of a desperate year at club level proved that point.

All the same, it's a bizarre situation. Keane is the greatest ever Irish striker, and remains the most likely goal threat for the crunch qualifiers with Slovakia and Russia next month, even though his club stock is lower than Doyle, Long, Jonathan Walters and even Leon Best.

A humbling fall, no matter what way you look at it.

Irish Independent

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