Galaxy star still burning brightly after 131 caps and 62 goals for Ireland

Robbie Keane has made the three-man shortlist for the MLS player of the year

Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane in action against Latvia last week.  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane in action against Latvia last week. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 01:00

He might be facing an operation next Wednesday on a nagging Achilles injury, but Robbie Keane, on Xbox One promoting duty in Dublin yesterday, was in fine form, the prospect of spending Christmas on home turf for the first time since he set sail for Wolverhampton as a 15-year-old partly responsible for his high spirits.

He sees a specialist in London on Tuesday and, if required, he will have the operation the next day, then “rest and rehab” for a few weeks before returning to Los Angeles.

He’s been bothered by it, he said, for “a couple of years”, so with LA Galaxy’s season over, it’s time to get it dealt with.

Did you play through the pain barrier?

“A hundred per cent. All the time. I don’t get an injection before every game, but sometimes it gets worse and worse. That’s the reason I’m getting this done. In the few weeks leading up to last year’s [MLS]final I was in terrible pain, but you just get through it and hope then that the break will get rid of it. That’s why it needs to be done now because if I leave it again it’s going to continue.”

Much as he loathes the artificial pitches he, occasionally, has to play on in the MLS, he doesn’t blame them for his injury woes. “I had the problem before then . . . but don’t get me started on all weather pitches. They hate me over there for talking about them because I can’t stand them, to be honest with you. Not good for you in the long run. [Thierry] Henry refuses to play on them. Anytime New York play Seattle, or whoever, he won’t play.”

Three-man shortlist
LA Galaxy, though, have had no such reticence from Keane, who has made the three-man shortlist – along with Montreal Impact’s Marco Di Vaio and Chicago Fire’s Mike Magee (who qualifies to play for Ireland, Keane noted) – for the MLS player of the year.

Back in October, he played for Ireland against Kazakhstan, then flew for 14 hours back to America, and made himself available for the game against Montreal – two hours after he landed. “I slept on the flight . . . well, I tried to sleep, but when you’ve got a four-year-old son beside you running amok on the plane . . . I had a couple of hours sleep.”

Came on for the last half hour when the game was 0-0, Galaxy won 1-0. “We needed to get Robbie on the field and his presence was spectacular,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena.

Keane shrugs, though, at a loss to understand why his efforts for his club would be lauded. “I just love playing,’ he says. Simple as that. “People don’t understand that. For me, to wake up every morning and go training and playing games, you can’t beat it. It’s not going to last forever, I’m fully aware of that. I’m enjoying it as much putting that shirt on as I did when I was 18 years of age. I just love what I do. it’s fairly simple.”

Retirement?

“I dread it, I dread the day that I finish playing, of course I do, yeah. I’ve been doing it since I was 17 years of age and I can’t imagine the day. It feels like that it’s so far away. Obviously, it’s not, but it certainly feels like that.”

In January, he’ll start his first coaching course in Dublin, working towards earning his ‘badge’, it’ll be a journey in to the unknown, he says, but will give him options for when the dreaded day comes.

He’s banishing those thoughts from his head for now, busy looking to his playing future, enthused about the new Republic of Ireland regime, his plea before the appointments for a manager “with balls” who would take no guff satisfied twice over, he says.

Same players
“I mean, listen, it’s not like overnight we can get new players in, we have the same players, but certainly with them two behind it and how enthusiastic they are is going to help Irish football, no question. Over the years 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 about the game. The buzz around the place in the last few weeks is huge, but ultimately it’s down to the players.”

“Martin is very witty. I’ve never really been in his company before, just met him a few times, but he’s very, very funny. Roy is the same as he was as a player, he is good company to be around. People obviously see a different side of him, but the side I know of him is what I saw last week. It’s been good, the players have enjoyed it and Roy and the gaffer said they enjoyed it too.” He’s hopeful, too, to put it mildly, that things will change, that there will be fewer no-shows for international duty.

“I don’t think you’re going to get too many people pulling out of squads,” he smiles. That happened a lot in your day? “A lot yeah,” he says, going on to express his failure to comprehend how anyone would not want to play for their country, regardless of their testy relationships with the manager of the day.

Own views
A case in point, the now returned Darron Gibson. “What are you going to do? Sit down with him and say ‘what the **** are you doing?’ It’s his choice. What can you say? Whether I agree or disagree, everyone has their own views on it. It was his choice, new management now, brought him back in. Will that happen again? I’m not too sure.”

“I’ve just got a problem if people don’t want to play for their country. I just can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to pull that green jersey on. But, if they come back into the fold, you have to get on with it and welcome them.”

Stephen Ireland?

“I don’t know. It’s not my call. If they want to come, that’s fine, make a decision on whether you want to come or not and then stick to it instead of ‘maybe I’ll come, I don’t know’. I’m not just talking about Stephen, I’m talking in general.”

He shakes his head. He’ll never understand – 131 caps and 62 goals after first pulling on the senior green shirt, it’s still a thrill.