Welcome to Last Word on Football’s Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Republic of Ireland legend, Robbie Keane.
Keane turned out for Tottenham Hotspur from 2002 until 2008, when he joined Liverpool, but returned to North London six months later. On his return to Tottenham, Robbie Keane played for Tottenham from 2009 until 2011.
Returning Players – Robbie Keane
First Spell at Tottenham
Robbie Keane was just 22-years-old when Tottenham secured a £7 million deal to sign the Irish striker. Despite that, he had already gained a great deal of experience in the top flight.
Robbie Keane first emerged from the Wolves academy and had already established himself as a first-team regular at just 17 years of age, while finishing as the teams top scorer in his first two seasons in the First Division. Such form from the young striker attracted the attention of Premier League side Coventry City in 1999.
But his impressive displays caught the eye of Spurs. In Keane’s first season at White Hart Lane, he was the club’s top scorer with 13 goals as Tottenham finished 10th. He remained a consistent figure for Tottenham in the seasons that followed. In 2003/04 Tottenham began the season in poor form and manager Glen Hoddle was sacked. Tottenham failed to meet expectations that season and finished in 14th position. Keane enjoyed another successful individual season and his 14 goals were vital to keeping Tottenham in the Premier League.
Keane’s best season for Tottenham would come under the management of Martin Jol in 2005/06. Tottenham were desperate to shake off the tag of being mid-table underachievers in the Premier League and the partnership with Jermain Defoe began to thrive that season. Robbie Keane would enjoy his most prolific league season in his Tottenham career with 16 league goals.
For most of the season, Tottenham occupied the crucial fourth spot in the Premier League, but they were pipped to the position on the final game of the season by arch-rivals Arsenal. A key factor in Tottenham missing out on the decisive spot was food poisoning which left several key players out for the final game of the season.
Tottenham would again finish fifth the following campaign. Keane continued to be a key member of the team, but his role involved him dropping deeper at times to create chances for Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov. After a poor start in 2007/08, Martin Jol was sacked and replaced by former Real Madrid manager Juande Ramos. It proved to be a poor season in the league for Tottenham as they finished in the bottom half.
However, Tottenham were successful domestically and Robbie Keane was able to get his first piece of silverware. The Irish striker played a key role in helping his side lift the League Cup in 2008 with a 2-1 victory over London rivals Chelsea.
Keane’s 15 goals in the 2007/08 campaign made him the first Tottenham player to hit double figures in six consecutive Premier League seasons. He would end his first spell at Tottenham with 80 goals in 197 Premier League games.
Teams Keane Played for in Between
Keane’s tremendous form and consistency during his time at Tottenham soon caught the eye of Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez. Fernando Torres had torn Premier League defences apart during the 2007/08 campaign and it was hoped that the addition of Robbie Keane as his strike partner would propel Liverpool to the title ahead of Manchester United.
Keane was signed by Liverpool for a fee of £19 million in summer 2008. However, despite the excitement surrounding Keane, he never really settled into Benitez’s system at Anfield and was often played out of position on the wing. He scored seven goals in six months at Liverpool and returned to Tottenham for £12 million in January 2009.
Return to Tottenham
When Robbie Keane left Tottenham in the summer of 2008, they were a club heading for a crisis. Despite the fact they had won the League Cup in February, their league form had been dreadful towards the end of the 2007/08 campaign.
At the start of the 2008/09 season, Tottenham were stuck in the bottom three positions and looked well off the pace. The watershed moment of the season occurred when Harry Redknapp left Portsmouth to replace Juande Ramos at White Hart Lane. From the moment Redknapp arrived in North London, results began to pick up and Tottenham rose up the league table.
When Robbie Keane returned to Tottenham in January 2009, he would link up with former strike partner Jermain Defoe who was re-signed from Portsmouth. Keane would score five goals in the second half of the 2008/09 campaign as Tottenham finished in eighth position.
The following campaign was hugely successful for Tottenham as they finished fourth in the league, securing Champions League football for the following season. The first time the club had qualified for the competition since the 1961/62 season. However, Keane struggled to establish himself as a first-team regular and was mainly seen as back up throughout the season with the likes of Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko all being regularly rotated in the Tottenham team throughout the season.
Robbie Keane spent the end of the 2009/10 campaign on loan at Celtic where he scored 12 goals in 16 appearances. He never looked to be at the same level that he was at in his first spell in North London and again struggled for first-team football during the 2010/11 campaign. After just seven appearances in the first half of the season, Keane was again loaned out, this time joining West Ham United scoring two goals in nine appearances for The Hammers as they finished bottom of the Premier League.
Despite being less successful in his second spell at White Hart Lane, Keane is viewed as one of the best strikers to have played for Tottenham in the modern era. Robbie Keane is Tottenham’s third-highest Premier League goalscorer with a record of 91 goals in 238 appearances and ended his tenure in North London with a total of 122 goals in 305 outings.