Wednesday 22 November 2017

'I dread the day when I have to finish playing' -- Keane

Ireland captain Robbie Keane was unveiled as ambassador for the McDonald's FAI Future Football programme and goes through his paces with Brian McManus and Cliona Fitzpatrick in Malahide yesterday
Ireland captain Robbie Keane was unveiled as ambassador for the McDonald's FAI Future Football programme and goes through his paces with Brian McManus and Cliona Fitzpatrick in Malahide yesterday

IT was a day which provided Robbie Keane with plenty of reasons to feel old.

As he spoke in the capacity of ambassador for the newly-launched McDonalds FAI Future Football programme, the former boy wonder of the Irish game found himself reflecting on the responsibilities of being a father.

In the discussion that followed, conversation veered from ongoing injury problems to his managerial ambitions and the impact that may have on where his son, Robert Jnr, spends his childhood.

It's grown-up stuff, problems that will be alien to many of the players that will join him on the flight to Stockholm today.


He is aware of the elephant in the room, the questions that all fall under the umbrella of enquiring if the end is nigh, and the Irish skipper adds to the theme by revealing that news of Michael Owen's impending retirement had come as a shock to the system.

"The two of us came through at the same time," he muses.

He has no intention of synchronising their departure from the scene. Keane's desire for the big games is still there and the build-up to a seismic game in Stockholm is where he still feels comfortable.

While he admits that he is in the latter stages of his career, he is quick to stress that it is a period that could last for another four or five years. LA Galaxy extended his contract by a further two years in January. "I dread the day when I have to finish playing," he said, adding that he would quit when he doesn't get the buzz anymore. "I can't see that happening for a very long time."

With his pals Damien Duff and Shay Given retiring after Euro 2012, and Richard Dunne beset by injury issues, he is very much the senior man of the camp. Footballers rarely get to say goodbye on their own terms, but Keane has always made that his target, consistently stating that he will retire from the international game when he's no longer first choice.

He is aware of the school of thought which argues that the day would already have arrived if a different manager was in charge and you sense that he is determined to prove otherwise on Friday. Perhaps that's why he is keen to downplay the knocks that have troubled him over the last year, in particular a persistent shoulder issue, as they might paint a picture of an ageing talent who is no longer the force of old.

It is not in his nature to admit weakness, but the ailments influenced his decision to turn down the opportunity to make another cameo visit to the Premier League over the winter.

"My Achilles is still playing up on me so I had to rest it," he said. "I have a shoulder injury as well that I eventually need an operation on.

"I can manage to get by at the moment, it's a torn shoulder and I have had it for the last few months. I don't know how I got it and it would have been impossible to play on loan.

"It's not affecting me playing, but eventually I will have to get an operation on it. But it won't be for a while, unless something dramatic happens in between. I have been advised to carry on as normal. It just affects me doing certain stuff in the gym.

"The Achilles is from last year, it's not gone away and is being managed very well at the moment by the club. Towards the end of last season, in the last couple of games, I could hardly run, so it was really affecting me.

"So, the rest was great and did me the world of good. It's nowhere near as bad as it was and the work I have been doing on it has maintained it. It's fine at the moment." He has noted that he is one of the few survivors from the team which he led out at Euro 2012 and his former strike partner Kevin Doyle was a surprise omission from this panel.

Keane wasn't expecting that news, but anticipates that the Wexford native man will be back soon. "Things are not going well at Wolves, but that's certainly not down to Kevin," he said.

For over a decade the burden of responsibility has rested firmly on the Tallaght man's shoulders, but he hopes that a new generation are ready to carry the torch.

The dearth of Irish players at the top end of the Premier League is a concern, but he sees potential in Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson and James McCarthy. "They've been doing well at the top level and it's important that we get more of them there."

Some time in the future, he would like to play a big part in the development of the next generation by managing his country, but, for now, his mind is on his playing responsibilities. He did speak to David Beckham about his PSG team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but all his former LA team-mate could talk about was how talented the Swedish star is, both in games and on the training pitch.

"I think everybody knows what kind of player he is," said Keane before adding with a smile, "so we'll just try and kick him as far as we can."

His mood lightens as he discusses life in LA. The departure of Beckham cleared the path for him to take the armband, and he's suddenly become a more recognisable figure in Los Angeles, with his face appearing on billboards and on the back of buses.

Heads turn when he turns up to watch basketball at the Staples Arena, although he was at the venue for a very different reason a couple of weeks back when he popped down to meet a famous person whom he didn't realise was part of the family.

Morrissey, the lead singer of The Smiths, set the hoax alarm ringing when he claimed to be a distant cousin of Ireland's record goalscorer, but he was speaking the truth. Keane's grandfather Thomas Nolan was related to Morrissey's father.

"The most bizarre situation ever," laughs Keane, shaking his head. "It's definitely true. He wanted to meet me, so I ended up meeting him and he told me the whole history of Captain's Road in Crumlin; obviously my family is all from there.

"I said to my mother:'How come for years nobody has ever said that?' It's not like it's something you don't tell people! And she said: 'Ah, her brother was saying for years that was the case, but we didn't think anything of it'.

"He's a lovely man, very charming and he looks like a Nolan as well. He looks like my Granda. It's weird."

Further proof, perhaps, that regardless of age, you can still learn something new every day. On Friday, however, Ireland could do with a performance from their talisman's back catalogue.

Irish Independent

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