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ISL 2017-18: Classy Robbie Keane shows his quality in battle for pride

06:02 GMT+3 05/03/2018
Robbie Keane ATK NorthEast United 2017-18 ISL
The Republic of Ireland legend marked his debut as player-manager with a goal of the highest order...

In Avram Grant's own words, "Players like Robbie Keane make the difference."

That is exactly what the 37-year-old did to help his Indian Super League (ISL) side ATK record a win after going eight games without one as they doused NorthEast United by the slimmest of margins on the final day of the 2017-18 league phase. 

Times have been tough for the defending champions who had to usher in the former Liverpool man as player-manager a day before the game after Ashley Westwood stepped down. Westwood, in fact, was brought in to replace Teddy Sheringham, who was sacked after ten games into the season.

Keane's debut in a managerial role created some much-needed hype for a match that was featuring the bottom two sides. For the man wearing jersey number 10, it was the tenth minute of the game in which he proved why he was brought into the team on a contract worth US$ 400,000 (₹ 2.58 Crores). The two-time champions might have been wondering what could have been, if not for injuries.

A long ball from Conor Thomas from the halfway line and Keane went in between the two central defenders and with his second step inside the area, simply nudged the ball into the net from the outside of the right boot without blinking. An awe-inspiring finish which could only be possible from a man who has played for two of the biggest clubs in England.

Much has been said and written about Keane's apparent lack of professionalism in the earlier stage of the season when he frequented his home country while being out injured instead of recuperating in Kolkata with the team. On Sunday however, it was a different man which addressed the post-match media gathering after playing out the full ninety minutes.

Keane did concede that he had to set his team up according to the circumstances (of not finishing last) and this won't be the style he preferred to play football. True, after the goal, most of the remaining eighty minutes were dominated by the visitors but thanks to the profligacy in front of goal by John Mosquera and co., the scoreline remained 1-0, which easily could have been 3-1 for the Highlanders.

Words like 'expansive' football, 'keeping the ball more' were thrown around by Keane after he revealed that he is to take charge and devise the road ahead until the owners say so otherwise. The sense of added responsibility boded well for the three-time MLS Cup winner as he had already planned for a two-day rest and directed his teammates to report back in training on Wednesday for the build-up to the Super Cup.

While it was not a Midas touch from Keane as he delivered a win in the first time of asking, ATK did come a long way and could hope for a better future after the near abyss Ashley Westwood pushed them into - one point from seven games, in which they conceded eighteen goals!

NorthEast United returned to familiar territory as they finished last - a similar return from the inaugural season. For these two sides, not looking back at ISL IV would be the best bet to prepare ahead as it has been a season to truly forget.