WHENEVER I watch the New York Red Bulls play at home, I can’t help but keep an eye on Thierry Henry. And if I’m not there live, the local sports channel, MSG, is of the same mindset — he gets a lot of camera time.
I’m fascinated by him not because of his waning talent, which has at times plumbed some cringeworthy depths considering where he was, but because of his utter inability to enjoy the game any more.
He is surrounded by ineptness and never hides his frustration.
He scored at the weekend at home to Chicago, his 12th of the season which, for 20 league games, is not a bad return but the pre-season favourites for the lesser Eastern Conference are languishing in mid-table.
This is my fear for Robbie Keane. Not so much the team he’s joining but how he will cope with their style of play. And how he’ll react could be the making and breaking of him and his international career, not to mention Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The LA Galaxy are getting a like-for-like replacement for Juan Pablo Angel in Keane and that does not bode well for the Ireland captain.
True, Angel is older and was past his prime even before he made the switch from New York to LA during the off-season but his deep-lying centre-forward sensibilities did not mesh well with the directness of Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
Angel had replaced a more traditional lone striker, Edson Buddle, who was able to take advantage of service from Donovan and Beckham, scoring 42 goals in 87 games during his time there.
The 30-year-old New Yorker then opted for Germany’s second tier. That says a lot.
According to close followers of LA, Angel failed because the Galaxy rotated a series of midfielders to play up top with him and yet he kept playing like there was a striker ahead of him. Will Keane fall back into those old habits and play it how he wants to given his rediscovery of top dog status?
I’m sure you don’t want me to dwell too much on the travel involved between LA and Dublin and beyond but it is a factor. He has a tough start to this experiment. I’m guessing logic will see him fly out from JFK after the away clash at New York on Sunday August 28 for the home game against Slovakia the following Friday. He then flies to Moscow and straight back to LA for a Friday night MLS game. A round-the-world trip and four games in 13 days — and his new team will even be forced to suffer the frustration of him missing a league game in amongst all that.
His October schedule will be a little more favourable, with the MLS enjoying a brief international break, but he’ll still have to play two league games and two international games inside a 16-day period of jetlag and recuperation. What’s more, all four games will be at the business end of the respective campaigns.
Not many of us would have turned down a few million dollars to live in LA. But none of us is the captain of Ireland. The backlash from writers who cheer-lead for the MLS was expected but they protested too much.
This is a poor league and I will never be convinced that he hasn’t given up hope for his career.
Forget the knockers, Keane will make his critics eat their words
THOSE long-suffering fish in the barrel must be delighted that Robbie Keane has joined LA Galaxy.
At least for a while they can swim around in circles unmolested while Ireland’s captain presents a much easier target for the trigger-happy.
Some of the criticism has been funny, some of it clichéd and some of it shamefully vitriolic but the basic line of fire is this: Robbie has turned his back on real football and opted for a life of wags and riches in the sun.
The view of the MLS as a comfy retirement home for old pros past their peak is not without merit but, when it comes to football, the old ‘yanks as planks’ caricature is rooted more in prejudice than reality. Exhibit A: Landon Donovan. In 2010, Donovan made such a strong impression while on loan at Goodison Park that David Moyes was anxious to keep him permanently. He then went on to help the USA top their group at the World Cup finals in South Africa, in the course of which they shared the points with a team drawn exclusively from what we all know is “the greatest football league in the world”. And Donovan, now a team-mate of Robbie Keane’s, did all this as an LA Galaxy player.
For sure, the standard overall in the MLS means this is a drop down for Keane but then what exactly is he meant to have left to prove? Would another season in the Premier League, the Championship or the SPL enhance his development as a player in any really meaningful way? And what crucial difference would that experience make to what he can still contribute to the Irish cause?
And, if you’re not Robbie Keane himself – with a family to think of and an exciting new chapter in all their lives on offer – that’s the only issue which should exercise anyone about his move to the MLS: how it will impact on the career of (lest we forget) Ireland’s captain and record goalscorer.
Truthfully, we can all only guess right now but, on the basis of how outstandingly well he performed in the green shirt at the end of last season – one spent mainly getting his kicks on the training pitch at Spurs – then it’s reasonable to speculate that it ought to be business as usual.
At 31, the most important thing for Robbie Keane the footballer is that he gets to play as much as he can, score as many goals as he can, stay fit – and, crucially, for a striker – keep his confidence levels high.
I don’t see any reason why he can’t achieve all those goals – pun intended – in the MLS.
Keane admitted recently that a professional footballer gets to a stage in his career when he has to acknowledge that titles and medals and playing in the Champions League are no longer realistic goals. That can’t be easy for a top-flight player to accept and, to that extent, joining LA Galaxy might be legitimately regarded as his way of sweetening the pill.
But, with four crucial European Championship qualifiers to come, glory still beckons on the international stage for Robbie Keane. Indeed, it’s conceivable that this campaign – ideally ending with Ireland’s first appearance at a major tournament in ten years – could mark his swansong in the green shirt.
As preparation for all that, I can think of things far worse than the sun warming his back. At the very least, it’s got to be preferable to his backside warming a bench. And, not for the first time in his career, but possibly the last, I would back Keane to make his critics eat their words.