Keane delight at Villa cameo
One by one they stride through arrivals at English airports, first Landon Donovan, then Thierry Henry and now Robbie Keane, returning briefly from the land of the free to the home of the game.
They could be strolling along the beach in Malibu or shopping in Manhattan. Instead, chests out, shin-pads in, they are heading to Villa Park and the Liberty Stadium this weekend.
One by one, Donovan, Henry and Keane pass through customs. Anything to declare?
Just a passion for football, a desire to keep playing and staying fit during the lengthy MLS off-season. Just an obvious attraction to English clubs craving trusted performers in a time of austerity.
Donovan is on a second stint at Everton while Keane, his LA Galaxy colleague, collected the Aston Villa No 20 shirt yesterday.
Henry, of New York Red Bulls, has already made a stunning impact on his emotional reunion with Arsenal.
Welcome to the age of the two-club jet-setter, footballers enjoying the riches and rising standards of the MLS while still good enough to have a seven-week blast in Blighty.
"It could happen with people who go to America,'' reflected Keane of the two-club phenomenon. "In America, they get a longer time off.
"It's nice to have both [MLS and Premier League]. LA is a bit different from Birmingham. It's a great lifestyle out there for the family. But I'm not out there to be hanging out in certain spots or with certain people. I'm there to play football.
"I could easily be sitting on the beach now and having holidays. But I love playing football, love training and being around the lads.
"I'm happy to come back here for a couple of months and then look forward to getting back with the Galaxy.
"I was surprised when I went to the MLS. It's not the Premier League -- that's the best in the world -- but the American lads are very fit and very tough.
"Maybe technically they're not as good as over here, but they make up for it by giving 100pc. It's a tough league.''
Keane is 31, some grey now flecking his hair, but he looks fit.
Donovan is only 29 and always admired for his stamina; Henry is 34, not as svelte as in his Arsenal heyday, but still a penalty-box presence.
David Beckham, who has doubled up with Galaxy and AC Milan in the past, still delivers at 35.
"Players look after themselves now more than they did 15 years ago,'' continued Keane. "There are fitness coaches and dieticians now which I never had when I first started playing.''
Keane has learnt to be more efficient. "When you're 17 you're full of energy and sometimes do silly running for no reason. When you get older and play the amount of games I have, for clubs and internationally, you get wiser. You read the game better." Premier League managers are tapping into that experience.
"Managers know what they're getting with Paul Scholes, with Thierry Henry, who is a legend at Arsenal."
Keane has no grievance with the Frenchman for that handball in Paris that helped deprive the Republic of Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup.
"I shook his hand after that. I've played against him three times since. That's history.''
Keane faces Henry in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Tomorrow brings a Premier League game against Donovan. "He will do well at Everton like he did a couple of years ago. I know he was itching to get back for a couple of months. He has a good relationship with David Moyes.
"Although I haven't worked with Alex [McLeish] before, he knows what I'm like. The lads here [like Shay Given and Richard Dunne] will have told him that I'm not a bad influence, that I'll try and help players.
"If I can pass on my knowledge in the seven weeks to the younger players, encouraging them on and off the pitch, then great.
"Villa are a team in transition with a new manager, a top manager with a great staff behind him. Villa will be one of those teams in one or two years that will be a strong side pushing for a place in the Europa League or the Champions League."
Keane is looking forward to linking up with Darren Bent again. "Me and Darren played well together at Spurs, even if it wasn't on many occasions.
"We were a good partnership: Darren likes to play on the shoulder and get in behind, whereas I like to drop off, get the ball off the midfielders and play in the hole. Gabby [Agbonlahor] can do a bit of both: drop off or play up high."
Keane spent last week training with his old Spurs team-mates, admiring their quality.
"I believe the title is between the two Manchester teams and Tottenham. Harry Redknapp has built up a strong squad.
"If you are leaving the likes of Jermain Defoe on the bench you obviously have a strong team because you know Jermain is going to score goals."
He believes half a dozen of Redknapp's men would walk into the City or United sides. "Yes, look at the players. Look at Chelsea trying to get Luka Modric. It might be very difficult now to convince Luka to go to Chelsea.
"It's looking at the moment like Spurs have overtaken Chelsea. Spurs are title contenders, no question about that."
He can see Spurs erecting a statue of Redknapp if they win a first title since 1961. "I am sure they will, definitely,'' said Keane. "If you asked anyone now who should manage England next, everyone would pick Harry.''
Before then, Keane would love to face England in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
"Hopefully it goes to penalties!'' he smiled. (© Daily Telegraph, London)