Robbie Keane wants to manage Ireland in the future

Robbie Keane wants to manage Ireland in the future

THERE were 15 reporters, two photographers, a cameraman, and half-a-dozen PR people squeezed inside a boardroom when the door opened and Robbie Keane walked through.

His smile got there before the rest of him. "Alright lads?" There was a time when he was far from alright with members of the press. When first appointed captain by Steve Staunton in 2006, he was scarred by the stinging criticism which rained down on the team, and in particular, on Staunton and him.

In press conference after conference, the pair sat, arms folded, staring blankly ahead into the mid-distance. When the opportunity came, up they stood and out the door they went.

Now it's different because Keane is different. He's comfortable with us, essentially because he is comfortable within himself. Ireland's captain for nearly a decade now, he has grown into the role, to the point where on this day, he can start his afternoon in the company of seriously ill children in Crumlin Hospital and then end it in the dining room of Aras an Uachtarain, sipping tea with President Michael D Higgins.

In LA, he has become the Galaxy's poster boy. "He just fits into the organisation perfectly," says Bruce Arena, the club's manager. "He is a leader, he is a worker, he is all about us - not all about what he used to do at Liverpool or Tottenham. He will be remembered as one of the MLS' best imports, for sure."

In time he may be actually recalled as the best for Keane has no intention of leaving California just yet. Contract talks with the Galaxy are ongoing. The family are settled. Robert Junior, now five, has started school as well as signing up with the local soccer team. "He loves it out there," says his father.

So does Keane senior. Three MLS Championships in four seasons, coupled with a MVP award, tells its own story. But it is what he plans next, post his playing career, which highlights exactly how deep he has bought into the American dream.

"When I finish up, I want to coach. Definitely. Down the line I'd like to get into management, but I'm not going to get a manager's job at the start. Like anything, it depends on what opportunities come along.

"You don't walk into jobs. 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 most important thing about training sessions is to keep players interested and ensure they are enjoying themselves. At the same time, you have to use the sessions in a way that leads into the game on a Saturday. But they have to have fun because there is nothing worse than players standing around, getting stiff and getting cold. As a player myself, I know how frustrating that can be.

"I can be a number two. When you are an assistant manager, you have to act as the go-between the players and the manager. The assistant manager has to be one you can go and speak to. Some players are fairly comfortable going to the manager. Some are not. I can identify with the younger players. I can do that job.

"But as I said, it depends what doors open. Short-term it may be in America and if so, great. I'd like to go back to England eventually." And what he wants most of all is obvious. The ultimate goal would be to manage my country, but we're talking years down the line. I've a lot to do to get to that point."

Yet it is not beyond the realms of possibility that it may happen, a concept which was just so alien when he was the cartwheeling, hyperactive young man, earning million pound moves from the Championship to the Premier League to Serie A and back again.

Like everyone else, though, he grew old. More to the point, he grew up. Handed the captaincy in 2006, when he was 26, he didn’t then possess the necessary wisdom for the role and all his shortcomings were exposed on a terrible night in October 2006 when Cyprus outfought, outthought and outscored Ireland. Staunton took the bulk of the flak but Keane, guilty by association, had to fight to save his reputation.

And he struggled to do so – his only competitive goals under Staunton coming against San Marino at Lansdowne Road. With morale abysmally low throughout the Staunton reign and a crisis always around the corner, tales were told out of school. “It became a bit of a bore to be around that squad,” said one player. “I got fed up hearing the same jokes from the same group of lads.”

No one was more fed up than Andy O’Brien. Along with Paddy Kenny and Clinton Morrison, he was made a scapegoat for the Nightmare in Nicosia, and quickly announced his retirement from international football. “Are you coming back?” Keane asked the defender a year later after Tottenham had played Portsmouth. O’Brien’s reply was short. “Why haven’t I been given a phone call before now?”

The words cut deep. Yet they also proved educational as Keane realised that a successful camp needed to be a happy one. So he increasingly interacted with the fringe members of the panel, maturing from the guy who wore the armband into the man who was their leader.

When Staunton left and Giovanni Trapattoni arrived, Keane stood up and welcomed him. He also, privately, stood up and questioned him just before the Ireland-Spain game in Euro 2012. Knowing he was in danger of being sacrificed, Keane convinced Trap he could play as a lone striker. That air of confidence separated him from the rest.

We saw it too. Before that game, and before the 2009 World Cup play-off in Paris, Keane delivered passionate rallying cries in his eve-of-match press conferences. "We won't lie down without a fight," he said.

In Gdansk, they fought the wrong fight but in Paris, Keane's words were backed up with actions. Famously, he and Ireland’s other senior players, rebelled against their manager that evening, ignoring his defensive, tactical wishes and deciding – after a brief meeting on the team bus – to play with risk and adventure.

It was a dangerous game to play. Had the tactic backfired then Trapattoni would have been fully entitled to banish the rebels. But after losing the first leg 1-0 at Croke Park, the players didn’t feel they had a choice.

So they went for it. And at half-time in the Stade de France, Keane went for it again, helped by the vacuum Trapattoni’s long silences left in the dressing room before games and during the interval. Keane, Given, and surprisingly, Stephen Hunt, were the men who tended to fill the void in these moments. His managerial apprenticeship began then.

Two years later, it stepped up a notch. Angry with Jon Walters, James McCarthy, and Anthony Stokes – who, for one reason or another, failed to appear for a crucial qualifier away to Macedonia, he cut loose. "If you don't want to play for Ireland, just come out and say so, and let someone else have a go," Keane said. The words were backed up with actions. Keane scored twice in a 2-0 win. Walters, significantly, has barely missed a game since.

Off the field, he has also learned how to play the political game. He and John Delaney speak regularly and when Delaney asked him what type of manager Ireland needed after Trap's departure, his reply was succinct: ‘One with balls,’ he said. Someone, essentially, like him.

Robbie Keane is an ambassador for CMRF Crumlin, the fundraising arm of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and was present alongside his LA Galaxy teammates at the handover of a cheque to the value of $50,000 from LA Galaxy and their sponsors Herbalife to CMRF Crumlin. Robbie is also an ambassador for CMRF Crumlin’s current campaign ‘Give It Up for Crumlin’. For more see