At the age of 38 it appears that the playing career of former Irish international Robbie Keane may well be reaching its conclusion. As we speak the veteran forward is assessing his options after leaving Indian Super League club Atletico de Kolkata some months ago.
The Dubliner had a record breaking international career for the Republic, scoring a sensational 68 goals in 146 caps for his beloved country. To put that into perspective Niall Quinn is Ireland’s second highest scorer with 21 goals. But that’s not the only record that the much-travelled Keane holds. His 146 caps are the most held by any player for Ireland. Former keeper Shay Given is next highest with 134 caps.
The club career of Robbie Keane is one that fascinates. To say it was unsuccessful would sound somewhat harsh on the Tallaght native. In his career that has so far spawned 20 years the 38 year old has won a paltry four major trophies and only one in England. That was a league cup triumph with Spurs in the 2007/2008 season.
The Republic of Ireland won the U18 European championships in 1998. By this time Keane had already made his senior club debut at the age of 17 for Wolves. Winning a major trophy was a huge achievement for Ireland. Young Keane was vital to their success.
Between 1997 and 2001 the sharpshooter would change clubs frequently. Between 1997 and 1999 Robbie would feature 73 times in the league for Wolves and score 24 goals before a big money move to Premier League club Coventry City would transpire. The fee was £6 million pounds and he would become the most expensive teenager in Britain. He would go on to net 12 goals in 31 league appearances for the Sky Blues.
In 2000 something remarkable occurred. Italian giants Inter Milan came knocking. At that time Serie A was the best league in world football. Inter would pay a whopping £16.58 million pounds for the Irishman. There was a lot of excitement in Ireland due to this colossal move. In hindsight however, it may not have been the right time for such a move for the now 20-year-old Keane. Robbie was still learning and probably trying to get used to a style of football in England. Italy at this time was very tactical and more difficult for a striker. The other issue was, the fact that the Milanese club were already blessed with world class strikers. These included Ronaldo, Christian Vieri and Hakan Sukur. Keane would only appear in 15 games scoring 3 goals for the club. The following season, he would return to England.
Leeds was the next port of call for Keane. He would link up with fellow Irishman David O’ Leary, who was building a young, exciting Leeds squad. Initially Robbie moved to Elland Road on a loan deal. His career at the Yorkshire club began brilliantly as he banged in 9 goals in 16 appearances by the end of that season.
The following season (2001/2002), Keane made the switch permanently. But the Dubliner’s form dipped. He made 28 appearances scoring only 4 goals. The Irishman would see himself moving once more by the seasons end. Form and major financial issues at Leeds forced Keane out the door. Leeds for their part are yet to recover from such issues today.
After a troubled season the Tallaght man found himself moving south to north London and Spurs. Unquestionably in England, this would prove to be the most fruitful spell of his career. It was also his most stable. From 2002-2008 Keane would play 197 times in the league for Tottenham scoring 80 goals in the process. He won his only trophy in England in his final season at the club, in the shape of the league cup. He formed a deadly partnership with Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov that season. Both players would score an incredible 23 goals each by the time the season concluded. The Irishman won personal accolades while at Tottenham. He would be awarded the club player of the year in 2003, 2006 and 2008.
For the 2008/09 season Berbatov couldn’t resist the attraction of Manchester United. On the other hand Keane was being seduced by Liverpool. He spoke how he was a Liverpool fan while kicking a ball on the streets of Dublin. The Reds would pay £19 million pounds for the services of the Irishman. Robbie would feature 19 times in the league for the Anfield outfit scoring 5 goals. Amazingly he would be shown the door by the next transfer window only six months later. He officially rejoined Tottenham on February 2nd 2009 for £12 million pounds. Liverpool had invested heavily on Keane and then manager Rafa Benitez was criticised for not given the former Leeds man the time he deserved.
Return To London
Keane had a patchy time upon his return to Tottenham. He would play sporadically for the club making 41 league appearances scoring 11 goals. But in between he would go on to have a couple of loan spells at both Celtic and West Ham before officially leaving Spurs in 2011. His brief spell at the Glasgow giants was by far the strikers most productive. In 19 games in Scotland Keane would bag 16 goals. He claimed the player of the year award with the hoops, but Celtic failed to win a trophy that season.
Keane finally left Spurs for the last time in 2011. A new life and career in the United States was calling. Robbie was in his 30’s and could not resist the bright lights of Los Angeles. LA Galaxy were a club on the up. They had the most marketable name in world football already in David Beckham. They also had one of the darlings of United States football (or soccer as the natives called it) in Landon Donovan on their books. But arguably Robbie Keane became their greatest foreign signing in the history of the club. Although I’m not sure it’s even an argument. The former Spurs hero spell at the Galaxy, would coincide with the most successful spell in the clubs history and Keane was a vital cog in their achievements.
Between 2011 and 2016 Keane would win three MLS Cups with the west coast club. Winning those titles in 2011, 2012 and finally in 2014. The Irish top scorer became a legend in Los Angeles. For four years running, he won the clubs most valuable player from 2012-2015. Not to mention the 83 goals he scored in 125 appearances for the club over five seasons. Robbie also had time to fit in a brief loan spell with Aston Villa in 2012 making 6 league appearances scoring 3 goals.
In 2016 Keane left LA Galaxy a megastar of the club and of American soccer in general. The much travelled forward would move east to Atletico de Kolkata in the Indian Super League at the age of 37. This would be his 11th club of his career and possibly his last. Keane made 9 appearances for the club scoring 6 goals under former Spurs great and former team-mate Teddy Sheringham. After Sheringham left the club, Keane agreed to take the job of player-manager till the end of the season.
Have we finally seen the end of Ireland’s greatest ever striker on a football field? Keane is currently taking time out to assess his options. It has been rumoured that he may take up a role in coaching, only time will tell on that score. Interestingly, in his playing career, Keane featured for 11 different clubs. His best spells were at Spurs from 2002 to 2008 and LA Galaxy in the years from 2011 to 2016. Both were the most stable periods of his career.
Earlier in Keane’s career he probably made the mistake of moving too often. By the age of 20, he had played for four clubs. It’s likely he was too young and too inexperienced to make the move to Italy. Whilst at Liverpool he only had 6 months and was a victim of not been fancied by the manager.
In the grand scheme of things, Keane established a glittering career that would be the envy of many a player. It was, however, a career that produced four major trophies. His ability as a player probably deserved more. Was Keane good enough to play for a title winning side in England? Personally I think he was. One things for sure, the Irish national team could do with someone, with even half his ability or goal-scoring prowess. Indeed, we may have seen the last of his famous cartwheel celebration. For now his boots lay dormant.