Robbie Keane: 'I dread the day that I finish playing. It feels like it's far away but obviously it's not'
Keane plans for future in coaching outside of dressing room 'comfort zone'
THIS year, for the first time since he was a teenager, Robbie Keane will spend his Christmas in Dublin.
The structure of a LA Galaxy season has changed his football calendar and an imminent appointment with an Achilles specialist is expected to confirm the need for surgery and a short period of rehabilitation.
It means that a Premier League loan stint this year is unlikely with the Dubliner, who turns 34 next July, appreciating that he needs to weigh up every decision carefully with a view to prolonging his career. Playing through the pain barrier for two years has reminded him that the body can be unforgiving.
Two months back in Ireland will offer the chance to explore other avenues. He's been in contact with the FAI about a specially arranged course in January that will allow him to do a combination of 'A' and 'B' Licences.
"I'll be out of the comfort zone," he admits, sitting back in the Presidential Suite of the Westbury Hotel. "It's one thing playing the game and talking about it, but actually putting on a training session for 20-something lads is completely different. I might go in January and after two days think 'f**k this'."
He's smiling, but conscious that the narrative is veering down a particular route, especially following on from a lengthy explanation of the persistent niggle that has forced him to consult a Swedish expert.
"Of course, down the road it's something I want to do," he continues, elaborating on his ambition to move into management. "We're talking like it will happen next week, but it's a good few years down the line."
For now, he just wants to play, with the switch to America rejuvenating Ireland's most capped player and record goalscorer. The appointment of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane has injected life into Irish football, but the younger Keane has always retained the same enthusiasm about the international game. His goal haul during the Trapattoni era alone would be enough to put him top of the all-time Irish charts, so, naturally, he will remember the Italian fondly even if he understands the current duo better.
Trapattoni valued Keane so highly that he never contemplated dropping him, but the player has acknowledged that, as he gets older, he may have to settle for involvement in just one game of a double-header if that's the price for extending his national service.
"I have to be realistic," he stresses, "Ultimately you're judged on your performance, aren't you? Certainly if the manager – for certain games – picks certain players and certain systems and if I don't fit into that system, that's no problem for me. I won't be one to shy away from ever playing for my country.
"I'm experienced enough to realise the most important thing is the team, it's not an individual. The country comes first."
Keane, speaking ahead of the launch of Xbox One, is an accomplished media operator, always careful not to give too much away. He's matured from being the boy wonder to the senior figure and is bemused by Twitter and the youngsters who use it to open their lives up to the world. He concedes, however, that the prospect of no longer being able to play the game does cause him worry.
"I just love playing," he enthuses, "People don't understand that. Waking up every morning to go training and playing games, you can't beat it, but it's not going to last forever.
"I dread it. I dread the day that I finish playing. I've been doing it since I was 17 years of age and I can't imagine the day ... it feels like it's so far away. Obviously, it's not, but it certainly feels like that. I'm enjoying it as much now as I did when I was a teenager. I just love what I do, it's fairly simple."
Like everyone with an interest in Irish football, he's tapped into the euphoria brought about the O'Neill/Keane axis, but he is quick to assert that nothing will make up for missing out on the World Cup. Not even making Euro 2016.
His views on the difficulties facing youngsters wishing to break into the Premier League checks the temptation to make definite proclamations about the road ahead. There is no prolific striker coming through, although he is encouraged by Anthony Stokes' career graph. But Stokes is 25.
"I think it's going to be very tough for younger players to have an opportunity like I did to go to England and be established as a first-team player very quickly, instead of waiting until you are 21 or 22 – and that's because there's so many foreign players.
"That's why now you don't see 17- or 18-year-old players coming through like me, Damien and Richie Dunne at the same time."
So, while he is optimistic about the men in the dugout, his gut feeling is that the depth of the talent pool will always determine their fortunes.
"It's not like overnight we can get new players in," he says. "We have the same players. You have seen how much Martin's teams have got up for games under him. Little small things that he does to get people switched on. Then you have Roy who is this big character and he has knowledge of the game. Those two together are going to help Irish football, no question. But ultimately it's down to the players."
Another Robbie Keane would make life easier, but it's doubtful that Ireland will ever produce one. Come next September, there's a strong chance that O'Neill, like every manager this century, will be relying on the continued good health of a natural talent.