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What next for Robbie Keane?

Ireland’s greatest goalscorer’s footballing future is up in the air.

Robbie Keane has scored 83 goals in 125 games for LA Galaxy.
Robbie Keane has scored 83 goals in 125 games for LA Galaxy.

2016 HAS CERTAINLY been a memorable year in the life of Robbie Keane.

On the international front, he appeared (albeit briefly) in the third major tournament of his career, Euro 2016, before retiring from Ireland duty with a phenomenal record of 68 goals in 146 games.

And at club level, Keane continued to do what he does best — score goals. This season, he managed 10 in 17 appearances, with injuries restricting his game time significantly.

Keane produced a respectable tally overall, but one that was not quite at the level of previous seasons, as before now, he has hit more than 15 goals in every campaign since joining LA Galaxy. Indeed, since moving to America, he has three MLS Cups, one Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and 83 goals in 125 appearances in total. He has also made the MLS Best XI four times — this will be the first year in which he doesn’t make the cut.

In short, Keane is destined to be remembered as one of best and most successful players ever to grace American soccer. The LA Daily News recently described him as “probably the best Designated Player the league has seen”.

Yet despite all his success, 2016 may also be remembered as the year in which the former Liverpool and Spurs player leaves the Galaxy.

Both Keane and similarly high-profile teammate Steven Gerrard are out of contract and may well have played their respective last games for the club, as Bruce Arena’s side were beaten in the play-offs on penalties by Colarado Rapids last Sunday.

At the very least, it seems likely that Keane’s time as a designated player will end. It is clear both the Dubliner and Steven Gerrard are no longer viewed as the indispensable players they were once considered to be.

Both the stars were restricted to substitute appearances in the two legs of the game with the Rapids, and neither could have the desired impact in this crucial tie.

In addition, after the first match, Arena admitted that Keane was far from happy with a bit-part role: ”(Robbie was) coming back from injury and, having a team that played a good game on Wednesday, I decided not to change the line-up,” the Galaxy coach said.

Alan Gordon has played well and deserved to get the start. I can promise you Robbie is not happy with that, but it’s the way it is.”

But even before their season ended in anti-climactic fashion, Keane and Gerrard were the subject of much speculation. Gerrard posted what many interpreted as a goodbye note last month on Instagram, in which he wrote: “Living in Los Angeles and playing for the great Galaxy supporters has been a privilege.

You have made this place feel like home to me. This city and this club will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you.”

The Liverpool Echo subsequently reported that Gerrard would leave LA at the end of the season, while Keane’s status as a designated player was set to end according to the same paper.

Source: LA Galaxy/YouTube

After the loss, Keane himself stopped short of pledging his future to the Galaxy, saying: “I’ll be playing next year, somewhere… Whether that’s here or somewhere else I’ll 100% be playing in the league.”

Many had even speculated that Keane could return for a brief stint in the League of Ireland, but his recent comments indicate he is set to remain in the MLS.

Staying with the Galaxy would almost certainly mean a considerable drop in his wages, but Arena has expressed hope that the Tallaght native will extend his stint with the club.

“We were honoured to have Stevie here as well as Robbie and are hopeful they continue to be part of our club,” the former US national team boss told reporters.

There are very few players who have contributed as Robbie has,” he added. “Three championships, more than 100 goals. He embraced the league.

“You don’t always see that from international players.”

Nevertheless, for all his incredible feats in the league, there seems to be a growing consensus among MLS watchers that Keane is a fading force.

ESPN contributor Jeff Carlisle recently cited Keane’s “lack of chemistry” with fellow marquee player Giovani Dos Santos, and while praising the ex-Ireland international’s overall contribution since moving to the MLS in 2011, he added that: “Father Time is catching up to him.”

The main issue, it seems, is that Dos Santos’ best position is in behind the lone striker. The Mexico international has flourished largely in Keane’s absence with 15 goals and 13 assists this season. Like Keane, Dos Santos is at his best playing off a target man, so Arena has recently chosen to omit the Irish striker from the starting XI. The only possible compromise is moving Dos Santos to the wing in order to accommodate Keane, but doing so risks tempering the 27-year-old’s attacking threat.

Moreover, injuries and international duty meant that Keane missed roughly half the US season anyway, and Arena indicated that this lack of match sharpness was a factor in some below-par displays by both the Dubliner and Steven Gerrard.

You can’t lose your top players for as long as we lost them and expect to be consistent on the field and produce the results we want to produce,” the 65-year-old coach said.

But despite Arena’s somewhat reassuring words, there is a widespread feeling that Keane is no longer pivotal for the Galaxy and would have to accept a much more peripheral role at the club next season if he stays.

The 36-year-old veteran star continues to insist he has no immediate plans for retirement and given that his goal tally is still highly respectable, he probably won’t be short of offers in America if he decides to take on a new challenge. And should Keane succeed once more against the odds wherever he ends up, then 2017 in its own way would be up there with the Irish star’s finest footballing campaigns to date.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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