Monday 20 August 2018

Comment: Ambitious Robbie Keane is an Ireland boss in waiting

First steps on road to managerial big-time after winning debut in India starts next phase of his career

Robbie Keane discusses tactics with IT Carlow students during an a UEFA A Coaching Licence Course in 2014. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Keane discusses tactics with IT Carlow students during an a UEFA A Coaching Licence Course in 2014. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

March 4, 2018. Remember the date. Robbie Keane's first game as a manager and it most certainly will not be the last.

Granted, it may well be the only reason to remember ATK's meeting with North East United in the final regular round of the Indian Super League. The prize for the winners was avoiding bottom spot.

Keane scored the only goal of the game too, and he may not always have players of his own quality to draw upon as he embarks on the next stage of his career.

There is still a Super Cup competition to come before the short season draws to a close and Keane's deal expires.

His Indian move hasn't really gone to plan as injuries have curtailed his contribution and poor results spelled the end for his manager, Teddy Sheringham.

Keane is his side's top scorer with six goals, but that says more about his team-mates than his own contribution.

Keane in action for ATK in India, where his managerial career got off to a winning start last weekend. Photo: AFP/Getty
Keane in action for ATK in India, where his managerial career got off to a winning start last weekend. Photo: AFP/Getty

Still, if the sojourn ends up giving him experience of making decisions, then it will prove to have been worth it.

It remains to be seen if the 37-year-old can summon up the energy for a last playing hurrah someplace else. He did have interest in England over the winter and wasn't ready to hang up his boots.

By all accounts, he has embraced that old mantra that he will be a long time retired, even though he is financially secure. The fitness issues will be a concern, yet he hasn't quite been operating in an orthodox football environment.

Inevitable

In truth, it's only delaying the inevitable - and that is a move to the dugout. Keane has always been open about his ambition to stay in the game.

He's from a generation of Irish players that have seamlessly adapted to the media game, and the Tallaght man would always be guaranteed work in that field if he wanted it.

But he has always given the impression that he is happier on the other side of the fence.

Keane has never really told tales out of school, despite having been deemed surplus to requirements by certain managers along his colourful career path. Any grievances have been kept in-house.

He respects the code of the dressing-room, and has kept his counsel when others would have lashed out. Martin Jol, his old boss at Spurs, says that Keane is one of the best players he has ever worked with in terms of his influence off the park.

Last September, Jol shared a new anecdote about Keane landing a few blows on Edgar Davids in a training-ground scrap, a story that stayed under wraps at the time. That tale would have leaked with different characters involved.

Keane was just 25 when appointed Ireland captain by Steve Staunton; it was unusual for a striker to be given the armband, and it reflected his status within that group where he was a strong voice.

Gary Breen joked on Newstalk on Saturday that Keane's tactical brief for the ATK players would have been simply to give him the ball, as that was his memory of dealing with the youngster who burst onto the scene under Mick McCarthy.

Keane's focus meant he demanded a lot of team-mates. He did mature into the captaincy, however, and in his latter years was able to adapt to no longer being first choice - Martin O'Neill cited his positive influence around Euro 2016 - and the younger players in the group were in awe of him.

There is little doubt that Keane has positioned himself for a return to the Irish set-up at some stage in the future. Privately, his former team-mates acknowledge that the Dubliner has always stayed on good terms with the right people; there is a strong school of thought that he will come back one day as Ireland manager, and it may not be far as down the line as conventional logic might suggest.

In 2014, he started off on the coaching path on a course run by the FAI which accommodated a host of Irish players who had retired or were approaching the final stretch.

That came after he did speak out to highlight the shortage of ex-internationals involved in the Irish coaching set-up across the age groups. His words were noted.

In preparation for his Indian stay, he trained with Shamrock Rovers and was given the freedom to dabble in coaching too. Manager Stephen Bradley felt he was a natural in that department.

"He's definitely going to be a coach," Bradley said last year. "You can see that when you see him work. Even in little games, Robbie would stand beside me saying 'Did you see that, did you see this, you need to fix that'."

Elite

Bradley hailed his work with the strikers in particular, suggesting that Keane had got the knack of explaining things to players with only a fraction of his ability. That can be a struggle for elite performers who can be frustrated with the limitations of others.

"He's excellent at that part, breaking things down for them," said the Rovers boss. "He's comfortable around the group and has a good manner with the players."

As Breen said on Saturday: "It doesn't matter what you know, it's your ability to get that across to other players."

At his peak, Keane needed to be selfish to achieve his aims, and management requires a different skill-set. He said in 2015 that he was ready to embrace it, and recognised that some patience would be required.

"You don't walk into jobs," he cautioned. "You have to establish yourself first.

"Maybe going in with a manager, as an assistant, similar to what Roy (Keane) is doing at the moment with Martin (O'Neill) would be right because I have a lot to offer on the training field in terms of the type of sessions I know players like."

The assumption is that the older R Keane will manage Ireland one day. Don't be surprised if the fresher-faced version gets there first.

Irish Independent

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