David Sneyd: 'This is not the Robbie Keane Revolution on Teesside but he is an influential figure nonetheless'
Talk about making an impression on opening night. If this thrilling 3-3 draw is anything to go by Robbie Keane is in for a rollercoaster ride at Middlesbrough.
Just as well his other job as Mick McCarthy’s right-hand man with Ireland is so stress free. Yeah, right.
This is not the Robbie Revolution on Teesside – he is assistant to manager Jonathan Woodgate after all – but he is an influential figure on the coaching ticket nonetheless.
On a chaotic, error-ridden night in the tight confines of Kenilworth Road, saddled in the midst of rows of terraced houses, the travelling Boro fans got exactly what they wanted from their new managerial team.
Post Tony Pulis the feeling around the club was a need to bring back the joy and entertainment. They got that in spades here and, but for Ireland’s James Collins 85th-minute equaliser Boro would have got all three points.
Keane may well curse him or simply file his neat finish away and inform McCarthy. Just in case, Terry Connor, another of the Ireland coaching staff, was here to witness Collins’ strike.
Such was the madness of this rip-roaring night, he was then denied being the match-winner as international teammate Darren Randolph pulled off a stunning point-blank save in injury time.
Britt Assombalonga could have made the final 10 minutes far more enjoyable had he just stuck his penalty away to make it 4-2, but he blazed over and then the drama unfolded.
Keane and Woodgate, the two 39-year-olds, would have aged considerably.
After a mistake-ridden first-half, in which both goalkeepers will rue their parts in conceding two of the four goals, Keane and Woodgate were deep in conversation leaving the pitch.
It was the No.2 doing all the talking, and quite animated he was too. He had spent the majority of that opening 45 minutes leaning against the far end of the away dugout to the boss, who paced continually while Keane scribbled note after note in a pad.
This week began with him feeling the need to defend his credentials as a coach, rallying against suggestions in an interview with the Daily Mail that he was the joker on the coaching ticket, the cheeky-chappie partial to a sing-song and session.
He may be fond of belting out the occasional Mary Black number but he saw red when such antics were brought up. “What the f**k? I’m not a clown. I’m not here to entertain people. What’s singing got to do with me being a coach? I like a laugh and joke. We don’t want people coming in here as miserable f***s. We want them to be happy, but for it to be done properly. It’s a serious job we’re doing,” he fumed.
And that influence has been felt since Woodgate offered him the job.
Speak to people around the club, not to mention some of the 960 Boro fans that made the long journey to the south of England, and they will tell you that there was a major loss of connection between the fans and players under Pulis.
‘Poisonous’ is one word mentioned to describe the atmosphere.
This is a club that has needed to be revitalised and reconnected with the supporters. And there was a moment of great poignancy as the away side arrived for their pre-match warm up.
Even if it came at Keane’s expense.
As the coaching staff and players prepared to be put through their paces, the Boro fans rose to acclaim one of the new members of the backroom team put together by Woodgate.
The chant was loud and, it must be said, sounded clear. “Keano, Keano” they roared in unison.
Only they weren’t.
“Leo, Leo” was the chant, as they hailed popular coach Leo Percovich. The Uruguayan lapped up the love, and who could blame him. He ran towards the away fans, pounded a clenched fist into his chest and screamed back at them. This is a man who was goalkeeping coach under a previous Boro boss, Aitor Karanka, and suffered horrific personal tragedy after returning to South America where he worked for Fluminense.
It was before Christmas 2017 when the car he was driving crashed off a bridge in Brazil. Two of his daughters died as a result while his wife and young son survived. Somehow he carries on, and after this stunning night of drama there is plenty of work to do for Keane and Woodgate.