Robbie Keane may have enjoyed fewer international opportunities since moving to America, but his goalscoring stats for club and country suggest a late career resurgence, writes Garry Doyle
WHEN Robbie Keane announced back in August 2011 that his latest ‘dream move’ was to join the LA Galaxy, his critics scoffed.
After all, in the previous three years he had suggested his arrivals at Anfield, Celtic Park and White Hart Lane were also the fulfilment of boyhood fantasies. How many were left for him to realise?
The passage of time has proved kind to Keane, though. And now, after scoring the winning goal against the New England Revolution earlier this month in the MLS Cup final, revisionists are rewriting the Robbie Keane story.
“In our league’s short history, Robbie Keane has proven to be the best import — period,” said Alexi Lalas, the former United States defender.
And the stats — which Americans love —back up Lalas’ argument. Three-and-a-half seasons have yielded three MLS titles and this season’s Most Valuable Player award.
Earning $4.5million-a-year, he has certainly been one of the League’s most expensive players but unlike other names who have relocated from Europe, Keane has been warmly received and not just because of his return of 20 goals and 14 assists from the season just gone.
The Galaxy captain for the last two years, Keane has tirelessly worked on improving squad harmony, organising squad trips to the races and family days for those players who have kids. In the dressing room, his is a vocal voice.
“I’d shout at the players on the park and initially, they looked at me and wondered what I was doing,” said Keane. “But that was the way I was brought up. I wasn’t going to change.”
Instead the Galaxy players changed, working to erase their faults and meet Keane’s needs.
“Robbie is really well respected,” said the Galaxy manager, Bruce Arena.
“People in the league believe in his quality. He’s fully accepted what this is about. And he’s bought into it. He doesn’t say ‘at Liverpool we do this’ or ‘at Tottenham we do that’. He is happy here.”
That sense of contentment partially stems from the Californian culture.
“In America, there is such a can-do attitude,” he said. “People aren’t negative. They try things. They don’t give up.”
Nor, at 34, has Keane given up on his career. He could have. With more money in the bank than any other Irish footballer, Keane could have viewed America as the land of opportunity to have a rest. Yet he didn’t.
“My options were the Galaxy or a couple of mid-table Premier League clubs. I didn’t want to just push for 12th or 13th in England. I wanted to win things, to try something different.”
If that attitude was met with scepticism, then he couldn’t care. “If people don’t like what I do then fine,” he said. “Just write about someone else.”
Instead, he has forced his critics to write about him — in a different sense. At 34, his career longevity has earned respect, just as the goals earned him shedloads of money.
And the fact that he keeps making transatlantic trips to play for his country — and more often these days to sit on the bench — sits well with the Irish psyche, who like their sports stars to have humility as well as skill.
Why else then did the world of social media go crazy during Keane’s MLS final?
The fact that he was an Irishman making an impression abroad bought him affection.
And the fact that he hadn’t gone to LA to put his feet up sat well with people at home as well as his team-mates in California.
“I can see how people might have looked at me going to Galaxy and thought ‘he’s finished now’,” said Keane in an interview earlier this year. “But since I moved to LA I’ve scored more for Ireland in these last two years than I did previously in the same time at Liverpool, Tottenham, wherever.
“It isn’t an easy league. You don’t rest on your laurels. There is a pressure for me. Three roster players have to produce all the time and the lads there rely on you and look to you when it’s not going well to score or create a goal, change the game, get it by the scruff of the neck. No one talks about our right-back or left-back.
“If I’m playing for Tottenham, there’s 18 players the same or similar. There [at LA Galaxy], because of what you’re getting paid with the wages structure, everything is about you. The press want you all the time and you are the face of the team, that brings pressure.”
Yet he has handled it, producing a wonderfully effective partnership with Landon Donovan, the one-time poster boy of US soccer.
Between them, Donovan and Keane scored 84 goals and were the architects of 78 assists in their three years playing together.
More to the point, he was won three trophies. In 14 years in England, he won just one. The wrong move? Not this one.