The ego has landed
Robbie Keane could have dropped a division to a standard of football that would have genuinely tested his mettle. Instead, he has taken the option of easy goals and easy money. Daniel McDonnell explains why
Published 16/08/2011 | 05:00
ANOTHER dream comes true for Robbie Keane. By now, sleep must be a constant source of disappointment.
One thing is for sure: it doesn't quite seem real that the 31-year-old should be preparing to start life in the MLS with LA Galaxy, a club who operate in a universe where football is nothing.
They are trying to buy respect in an area where other sports dominate the consciousness -- hence the move for the goal poacher from Tallaght, who is supposed to deliver the goals to put them on the map.
It is a project which he has rated above trying to bring Leicester back into one of the two biggest leagues in the world.
From the football point of view, the inescapable conclusion is that Keane's ego has taken the easy option.
The alternative to a stiff challenge in a physical, unforgiving environment, is a league where he is still young enough to be a rising star.
There are parallels with the loan move to Celtic that provided goals aplenty at a level far below his capabilities. And the MLS is an inferior overall product to the Scottish Premier League.
Should Keane adapt to the task, adulation is guaranteed. Something which he thrives on.
Just look back to May's Carling Nations Cup win over Scotland, when a lung-busting 50-yard run from Paul McShane teed up Keane for his 49th international goal.
While it was a landmark strike to bring him level with Bobby Charlton in the all-time charts, the majority of his team-mates rushed to acclaim a unique moment in McShane's career. Keane continued on his own solo celebration, oblivious to the initial absence of his colleagues. It was his stage.
Most footballers have an ego. It's just that Keane's is more apparent. The suspicion is that, in addition to the money and lifestyle, regaining the feeling of being top dog appealed more than the grind of the Championship.
It will help his confidence, and Giovanni Trapattoni -- who will select Keane when fit -- won't mind too much. That's where the sporting logic for the switch begins and ends.
Since the LA Galaxy link emerged, amateur comedians have been making the same, tired joke that Keane would come out and say that the Californians were his boyhood club, similar to statements he uttered upon joining Liverpool and Celtic.
Remarkably, the press release which confirmed the protracted deal had gone through included quotes from Keane that could easily have formed part of a parody.
"I have always wanted to come and play in the MLS, so it's the perfect combination for me and a dream come true," he said, with no apparent trace of irony. Earlier this year, when he was unveiled by West Ham, he had stated a wish to stay at the 'highest level' for another four or five years.
"I have already discussed football with Bruce Arena," he continued. "And I know exactly what he wants from me. I'm fit, fresh, and ready to go. I've come here to score goals and help this team achieve their goals. This is a massive opportunity for me in my career. I aim to grab it with both hands and hopefully help give the Galaxy fans what they want."
And what do the Galaxy fans want exactly? Well, head coach Arena, a former manager of the US national team, stressed his aims in the same missive.
"Hopefully he will be another piece of the puzzle in our quest for the Supporters Shield and an MLS Cup championship as well as to advance to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League."
The last sentence gives an unfortunate indication about the level that Keane is descending to. His move to Liverpool was laced with an ambition to play regularly in the Champions League. Back at Spurs, he was holding out hope 12 months ago of being involved in Europe's premier competition. Now, his manager is aiming at the CONCACAF version.
Keane, who has scored more international goals than any Irish or British player, will be pleased to know that he has a chance to trailblaze in the CONCACAF Champions League, a competition for the top teams from Mexico, the US, and league winners from the rest of Central America and the Caribbean.
The only front man from this part of the world to figure in the scoring charts was Englishman David Foley of Puerto Rico Islanders, who nabbed four goals.
That's the same David Foley who made 98 league appearances in seven years at Hartlepool, and scored a grand total of zero goals. Stellar company alright.
As much as there has been an influx of some promising young American players into the MLS, it is impossible to construct a credible argument about the standard at which Keane will now operate compared to the talent which he still possesses.
It's easy to be glib about his career achievements, but the Dubliner has broken records for his country and hit the net 121 times in the Premier League.
Despite a miserable year at club level last term, he produced the goods for Ireland in Macedonia last June, delivering a mature display in a testing encounter to nab the three points.
The evidence was there to suggest that he could still do a job for a club in the top flight. Indeed, he seemed certain of this himself as recently as last Tuesday.
The fact that no offer was forthcoming was more to do with his anticipated wage demands and length of contract than a reflection of his ability.
Should Galaxy allow him to nip out on loan in the winter -- if only for a few months -- then Premier League managers with a striker shortage or a couple of unexpected injuries will knock on his door. He can have a stab at becoming a temporary saviour, and leave before the business end of the season to collect the big bucks in LA. A contrast from the pressure and frustration of his enervating stint at West Ham.
Perhaps, by Christmas, the Dubliner will realise what it's like to operate in a culture where his sport is miles down the food chain.
On Sunday night, while Irish supporters wondered whether or not their skipper and most important striker was really was about to wave goodbye to the Premier League and settle for a dramatically inferior standard, there were other matters concerning the ABC network's Los Angeles affiliate when the sports bulletin came around.
News of the LA Dodgers, LA Angels, Little League baseball, college American football, a basketball transfer story and some NFL news from nearby San Diego took up all the space. The Keane speculation didn't merit a mention.
He could become a darling to the Galaxy faithful, but he is miles away from the scrutiny that determines a top-level footballer.
Fun, sun and easy money. That's the American dream alright.