Tuesday 23 July 2019

'Then you wake up one morning and it's gone' - Robbie Keane on his retirement promise to family

Republic of Ireland assistant coach Robbie Keane
Republic of Ireland assistant coach Robbie Keane
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When Robbie Keane confirmed his decision to retire from football, he sat down with his family and made a promise to them.

He had watched ex-pros lose their way in life when the time came to hang up the boots, unable to come to terms with their change of status.

That wasn't going to be his story.

"When I retired, I went to the gym every day to make sure that I was still the same," says Keane, whose social media profile tracks that determination.

"I'm still fit. Still mentally strong and the same person that I was as a player.

"I have seen ex-players fall by the wayside. I will never let that happen to me, no chance. I made it very, very clear to myself and to my family that it won't happen."

Ambassador Robbie Keane and EURO 2020 mascot Skillzy meet Keelan Hudson, aged 12, from Longford in Crumlin yesterday. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Ambassador Robbie Keane and EURO 2020 mascot Skillzy meet Keelan Hudson, aged 12, from Longford in Crumlin yesterday. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ireland's record goal-scorer isn't running away from the fact that it was a major transition in his life.

He wouldn't have a reputation for admitting weakness in front of the cameras but he concedes that he did struggle with the realisation that he had played his last game and celebrated his final goal.

That feeling niggles away at him, and the FAI Twitter and Instagram feed has provided ample evidence that he likes to join in wherever possible during Ireland sessions.

Background

Come matchday, however, he must fade into the background.

"I did find it tough," he admits.

"I'm not going to lie. The first couple of months, it was difficult to accept it."

He is speaking at a Euro 2020 event at Crumlin Children's Hospital, just down the road from the club where he played his football before moving to England and becoming a teenage sensation.

"I've played for 20-odd years and woke up every morning with a structure," Keane continued.

"Then you wake up one morning and it's gone."

His challenge, in his own words, is to prove himself as a coach. In many respects, it's back to square one, yet the reality of his status means that he can knock on doors that other rookies could only dream about approaching.

It was a call to Mick McCarthy that got him involved in the Irish set-up. Now he's preparing to take on another role with Middlesbrough following a call out of the blue from his old pal Jonathan Woodgate.

A colourful career has allowed the Tallaght man to move in esteemed circles. He is able to tap up the elite for advice about his next step.

Last summer, he was on holidays when he met Marcello Lippi, with the World Cup-winning boss and Keane's one-time Inter coach urging the Tallaght man not to rush in to anything.

Mauricio Pochettino has extended regular invitations to the Spurs training ground, where Keane has marvelled at his interactions with staff and players, especially during training.

And a connection through a mutual friend who deals in luxury watches has led to a friendship with Jose Mourinho, another sounding board for advice who always goes out of his way to enquire about the Keane family.

"I've spoken to him about coaching," says Keane.

"Naturally, you would. He's one of the greatest managers of all time. And one-on-one, he's a smashing fella. I could listen to him all day."

Absorbing information is the priority. Keane says that he would probably turn down a management job if he was offered one tomorrow.

He wants the first role to be the right one; he has spoken before of a desire to manage his country but knows there's a road to travel.

"For me it's a long-term plan," he asserts.

"It's not a short fix for me. I'm not desperate to be a manager now. I'm 38, I'm young. I don't mean this in a horrible way, please forgive me, but I don't need the money, it's not for that.

"I'm doing it because I love being around football. I don't know anything different. It's all I've known since I was 15 years of age.

"I will know when the right time is for me to move on and to be the head coach or manager. I don't want to rush into something and then regret it six months or a year later.

"As a player, I always wanted to be the best and now I have that same desire and hunger, no question."

His name will always be synonymous with the goals he scored and that's actually one of the challenges.

At one point in the course of his lengthy round-table interview, he was at pains to stress one particular point.

"I'm not a forwards coach," he said.

"I can help people because I know how to play there but I am not a forwards coach.

"I didn't take the job to be with Mick as a forwards coach. That's not on the resumé, just to clear that up.

"I know how to make strikers better, I've been there and done it. But I also know how centre-halves play because I played against them all my career. I know how they move and how they don't move.

"I could have more advice for the centre-halves than sometimes the strikers. I don't want to be pigeon-holed as a striking coach. I love doing it, but I have a lot more to my bow than that."

Around the Irish camp, he will find it hard to escape his past. His prolific career in green has been juxtaposed with the problems of the current lot.

The attackers who toiled against Gibraltar are yet to break the deadlock at international level. Keane is an admirer of David McGoldrick's all-round package and can spot Scott Hogan's sharpness around the box, but he knows there is a need for a new hero to emerge.

He is cautious about hyping up Spurs' starlet Troy Parrott but he also went to meet him for lunch and get a handle on his character. Keane is happy with everything he's seen and heard.

"You have to be careful," he said.

"Can you get someone else in the next generation who can score 68 goals? I don't know."

He breaks into a smile. And tunes out of interview mode.

"I was hoping to say I hope someone breaks my record but, let's be honest, I don't. Unless it's my son."

Robbie Keane 2.0 was never going to stray too far from the original.

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