x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Keane's motto: have boots, will travel

Maybe it is no coincidence that the striker has never really settled at one club for very long.

Robbie Keane has been unable to hold down a first-team spot since his return to Tottenham Hotspur from Liverpool in 2009.
Robbie Keane has been unable to hold down a first-team spot since his return to Tottenham Hotspur from Liverpool in 2009.

Maybe it is no coincidence that Robbie Keane has never really settled at one club for very long. "Have boots, will travel" appears an apt motto for the striker.

Keane's father Robert was a singer who moved from gig to gig in Ireland. Likewise Keane the footballer has moved from club to club - eight in a 14-year career - without truly settling anywhere. A six-year spell at Tottenham Hotspur between 2002 and 2008 being his longest time in one place.

Perhaps then there is something in his DNA. It was never in doubt Keane would leave Spurs during the January transfer window. The only question was where he would go.

After deals to Aston Villa and Birmingham City fell through, he joined West Ham United on loan.

"It is something I am fairly used to now, coming to a new club," Keane said on his arrival. "It is an opportunity for me, and I don't really have anything to lose. West Ham are bottom, all we can do is push up the table and I am here to hopefully do that to avoid relegation."

The move could also serve to suit Keane's personal ambitions with the Republic of Ireland. His inactivity for most of the season at Tottenham has caused Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland manager, to question whether he can continue to play his captain.

But, the national team is the only place where Keane has ever performed with genuine consistency. His 45 goals in 104 games - a rate of almost one every two matches - is evidence of that.

Indeed, he is within touching distance of becoming the most prolific international goalscorer from the British Isles. England's Bobby Charlton holds the record with 49.

It was a desire to break that record that prompted Keane to seek first-team football. Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, said: "Robbie was getting frustrated he wasn't playing or sometimes getting on the bench. I didn't want to stand in Robbie's way. I realise how much playing for Ireland means to the lad so he needs regular football."

Trapattoni, the Italian who at 72 still sees himself leading Ireland beyond next year's European Championships towards the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, has challenged Keane, 30, to convince him that he can go on for that long as well.

"It is important now that Robbie plays, even if he had to go to the United States or to the Third Division of English football like Kevin Kilbane," Trapattoni said last week.

"I told Robbie not to worry about it and that maybe it would be better to continue his career with a smaller club. It may be a smaller club but he is playing."

Keane's career has been a case of what might have been. He has never really fulfilled the immense potential that persuaded Inter Milan to sign him as a 20-year-old from Coventry City. That was after he had burst on to the scene with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the age of 17.

One reason for Keane's failure to reach the very top of the game is down to politics. Keane has been a victim of that at several of his long list of clubs.

Marcello Lippi signed him at Inter because: "The policy of the club at the time was to sign the best young players available. Keane was one of the them, but unfortunately not long after he joined I was sacked and the club changed direction and Keane suffered."

A loan move to Leeds United then became permanent in 2001, but he joined the club at a time when they were paying the price for living beyond their means and he was sold a season later to service debts.

He moved to Tottenham and seemed to find a home, scoring 80 goals in 197 games. However, in his time at White Hart Lane, Spurs could not break into the league's top four. So, when Liverpool, his boyhood club, came knocking, Keane sensed his chance to add to his lone trophy - the 2008 League Cup with Tottenham.

A £20 million (Dh118m) transfer would pair him with Fernando Torres in what, on paper, seemed a daunting strike force.

Yet it quickly became clear he had been signed above the head of Rafa Benitez, the then manager, and was rarely played by the Spaniard. Politics had struck again.

Even his return to Tottenham six months later was a decision made more by the club's board than Redknapp. Politics again.

West Ham have a £6m deal in place to make Keane's move permanent at the end of the season, should they stay up.

If not, the Irishman will pick up his boots and wander on.

 

sports@thenational.ae