Robbie Keane was reunited with old teammates this week, but the friendly was a mere obligation for the Irish striker.
The last time many back in Europe saw him was leading an impotent Republic of Ireland frontline in Euro 2012.
He flopped after a $30 million move to Liverpool – a stint marked by jibes at his claim to have supported the Reds as a kid and being confusingly deployed on the wings. A trade back to Tottenham, where he scored over 100 goals in 250 games, didn't stunt the drop, and he quickly found himself out on loan at Celtic and West Ham United.
But a downward trajectory is not how Andre Villas-Boas sees it. "He continues to show his qualities," the new Tottenham coach said.
The Spurs visited southern California for a preseason match against the LA Galaxy and drew 1-1, giving AVB a first-hand look at the 32-year-old.
"I was trying in the warmup to tell him to calm down a little bit," Villas-Boas joked. "I think his willingness and his power and drive is always there. He's obviously an experienced striker and he managed to go through on our defense a couple of times."
Keane led two breakaways in the first half that he probably should have finished. So was this a case of Keane cranking up the effort in a 45-minute cameo to impress his old teammates? Not so much, claims the man himself.
"For me it's just a friendly game," Keane said. "I'm not too interested in friendly games to be totally honest with you."
With David Beckham in London rehearsing for the Olympic opening ceremony and Landon Donovan training with the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia, Keane was the last Designated Player left in Carson, Calif. (The game didn't sell out, with over 1000 seats available.)
The Galaxy handed him a headlining role and the captaincy.
Bruce Arena noted that Keane "was a little reluctant" to play against his old team, but did his job. "I was really impressed with Robbie's attitude and his play," Arena said. Most importantly, as the former U.S. national team coach pointed out, Keane "was encouraging to his teammates – and the young partner he had up front in [18-year-old Jose] Villarreal."
Mentoring young players is nothing new for Keane. Before the friendly, Current Spurs captain Michael Dawson discussed Keane's influence on his career.
"It was seven and a half years ago when I signed for Tottenham. He . . . certainly helped us settle in," Dawson said. "The first day he took us out and showed me around London. We've stayed friends ever since."
They went to an Italian restaurant, perhaps a culinary taste Keane developed playing for Internazionale. When Dawson showed up Keane was already an established striker, having played for Inter and Leeds and vice-captaining Tottenham.
"Robbie's certainly a character," Dawson said. "That's one thing. He's a guy that everyone gets on with. He's friendly, he's bubbly. That's something I think you need to be in and around with all the lads."
The effervescence bubbles up even when dealing with reporters. He duly stopped at the post-game mixed zone, carrying a bottle of Fiji water, to hype a friendly "that probably came at the wrong time for us really."
Earlier this month he stormed off from a post-practice interview after a lack of "proper questions," but for the most part comes across as chirpy and eager. He's even more willing on the field. His nine goals have been scrappy, but they've been essential in dragging the LA Galaxy from the cold cement Western Conference floor and into a playoff position.
The Galaxy pushed DP money Keane's way to fix a goalscoring problem – by mid-2011 Edson Buddle had ridden his blistering form to Germany and Juan Pablo Angel wasn't panning out. For the most part, it's worked. Keane scored three goals in eight appearances in 2011 when the Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup.
The Dubliner scores wherever he goes, a total of 10 clubs with his name somewhere in the goalscoring lists. That's a lot of somersault celebrations.
With Donovan suspended (yellow card accumulation) and Beckham back in London after a quick jaunt across the Atlantic to the All-Star Game, Keane will again lead the Galaxy this weekend against FC Dallas.
Sometimes headlines – scrolling upward on a five inch touchscreen – deserve a closer inspection. "It was good to see his face," Dawson said.
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