Robbie Keane looks Championship bound

Ireland’s record goalscorer Robbie Keane won’t be joining Dubai club Al Ahli and is instead expected to sign for an English Championship club in the coming weeks.

When images of the 36-year-old training under a baking sun appeared on the club’s social media account yesterday, speculation intensified the “last adventure” spoke of in December involved him upping sticks to the United Arab Emirates.

Keane and his young family, it transpires, are this week in Dubai for a short break and it was arranged by the Gulf League champions for him to partake in sessions in order to maintain his fitness levels. The former Tottenham striker only a fortnight ago stated he’d eliminated some offers because they were “too far away”.

Since parting ways with LA Galaxy in November, Keane has been relaxing at his Dublin home. That led to sentimental notion of seeing out his career at Shamrock Rovers but he has more lucrative options on the table, including from a number of clubs in the English Championship.

While Preston boss Simon Grayson has made his interest known, Brighton manager Chris Hughton has kept open the possibility of recruiting the veteran to aid the promotion push of his second-placed side. Keane, as a free agent, can decide to end his sabbatical at a time of his choosing.

Meanwhile, SIPTU have urged the FAI to attend a Labour Court hearing after they claim attempts to involve the association in a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) session on a pay dispute fell on deaf ears. Unionised members of the association’s 167 staff are seeking full restoration of cuts to pay and pension contributions they suffered when their employer embarked on a campaign of cost-saving measures four-and-a-half years ago.

That was the start of a period when the fall-out of the FAI’s vantage club premium ticket flop became evident in their accounts. Rather than generating enough cash to meet the association’s €72m contribution towards the reopened Lansdowne Road, a meagre uptake in sales resulted in debts of €64m appearing on the balance sheet. Several redundancies, including that of technical director Packie Bonner, were made over the period while SIPTU claim their members shouldered a massive burden.

Now that the association has trimmed its debt to around €40m, earned €11m from last summer’s Euros, and has sold out next month’s World Cup qualifier against Wales, the union wants employees to be rewarded for their loyalty.

“We’re looking for restoration of the pay levels prior to the cuts of August 2012, which were to be in place for a period of 18 months only,” explained SIPTU sector organiser Denis Hynes yesterday.

“Some workers lost over one third of their pay while all lost at least 10%. Receiving a paltry three per cent last June was simply not enough.

“We asked the FAI to engage with us in the Workplace Relations Commission to find a resolution to this dispute but they declined to do so. Our members are feeling completely frustrated at the lack of progress in this dispute.

“It left us with no option but to submit an application for a full hearing at the Labour Court, which we have now done. The case will be heard inside three months.” Whether the FAI cooperate with the Labour Court hearing remains to be seen. Were they to shun it, or even reject their ruling, it could lead to SIPTU balloting members for industrial action, up to including pickets.

To avoid such an unseemly mess, Mr Hynes has proposed a third-party audit of the FAI’s financial accounts. This is an appraisal frequently recommended by the Labour Court to employers citing an inability to either increase or restore pay.

“As part of the process, we will be looking for an independent assessment of the FAI accounts,” he continued.

“In disputes where employers say they can’t afford to pay their employees, unions are entitled to ask the employer to prove that is the case, which is where the independent assessors come in.”

The FAI didn’t respond to requests for comment on the matter last night.



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