He is his country’s all-time leading scorer with 68 goals, more than four times the tally of the player who is second on that list. He has represented no fewer than four clubs to have been European champions. He captained his country for more than a decade, having played senior international football for 18 years. Only three European footballers in history have scored more often at international level. He is 13th on the list of all-time Premier League scorers. Why, then, did Robbie Keane’s career at Liverpool last for only six months?
For a player whose dedication to the Republic of Ireland was beyond question – he would routinely turn up for post-season friendlies when many others couldn’t be bothered – Keane never stayed at any one club for long enough to even challenge for club legend status. Indeed, the Irishman has racked up 11 clubs during his storied career, one which began at Wolves as a 17-year-old. Initially notable for sharing the surname of Irish stalwart Roy Keane, it wouldn’t take Robbie long to make a name for himself in his own right. Between 1997 and 1999, the teenage striker earned rave reviews at Molineux and it came as little surprise when, early in the 1999/2000 season, he became a Premier League player, signing for Coventry for £6 million, at the time a record transfer fee for a player under 20.
Keane continued to impress in the sky blue shirt, but it was still something of a shock when he joined Inter Milan less than a year after moving from Wolves. He was highly rated by Inter manager Marcello Lippi, but the club performed badly during Keane’s time in Milan and Lippi was soon dismissed, with his replacement Marco Tardelli not an admirer of the young Irishman. He lasted less than half a season in Italy before being loaned to Leeds, who at the time were in the Champions League. He started brilliantly at Elland Road and did enough to convince the club to sign him permanently. However, he had his worst season yet in 2001/02 and, with Leeds sinking into financial disarray, he was among several players moved on after the 2002 World Cup, in which he had distinguished himself greatly.
Tottenham was Keane’s fifth club in less than three years, but he would settle at White Hart Lane for all of six seasons. He came to a Spurs side which continually disappointed and signed some truly horrendous strikers, but with the exception of the short-lived Jacques Santini, all of his managers at Tottenham rated him highly. By the mid-2000s, Keane was regarded as one of the most consistent strikers in the Premier League, while Spurs were finally becoming European regulars under Martin Jol. In 2008, he played in the Tottenham side that won the League Cup, their first trophy in nine years (it remains their last major honour).
In the summer of 2008, Liverpool were actively pursuing Keane as a possible signing and, as a boyhood Reds fan, the striker was all too happy to sign on the dotted line. His first goal in a red shirt came in a Champions League win over PSV Eindhoven, but it took almost three months for him to register in the Premier League, grabbing a brace against West Brom. After a slow start to life at Anfield, his form improved in the closing weeks of 2008 and he would score a stunning equaliser in a Christmastime draw at Arsenal. Near the end of the January transfer window, though, Tottenham tabled a bid to bring him back to London and, just six months after spending £19 million on him, Liverpool agreed to sell him back to Spurs for just £12 million. It was mind-boggling, but then again it came during the height of the Gillett and Hicks soap opera.
Keane’s career was taking on a nomadic shape once more. Within a year of returning to Tottenham, he was loaned to Celtic for the final four months of the 2009/10 season. Back at Spurs, he was finding game time hard to come by under Harry Redknapp and another loan move followed in January 2011, joining West Ham but unable to keep them in the Premier League. With his career at a crossroads, Keane made the bold move to give Major League Soccer a try, signing for Los Angeles Galaxy.
It was a transfer that reinvigorated the Irish striker, who was now into his 30s. Unlike a lot of European veterans who went to MLS and were exposed as has-beens seeking a handy payday, Keane became one of the most successful ‘designated players’ in the league’s history. He had a loan spell at Aston Villa during the 2011/12 season, but that was purely to maintain his fitness during the MLS off-season. LA Galaxy won the MLS Cup in Keane’s first two years with the club, the Irishman scoring the winning goal in the first of those, and he repeated the feat in 2014, by which point he was LA Galaxy’s captain. He remained with the Californian club until the end of 2016, having linked up once more with former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard.
Last August, Keane signed for Indian outfit Atletico de Kolkata, who are managed by ex-Spurs team-mate Teddy Sheringham. Injury delayed his debut until this month, but a recent wonder goal reminded us of his long-standing striking prowess. His scoring record with Ireland is phenomenal, 68 goals in 146 caps, so it was a real shame that he wasn’t given more of a chance at Liverpool, especially when vastly inferior players had been awarded far more time at Anfield.