Sam Lambeth looks at what a potential return home for Robbie Keane would mean for Wolves.
Of all the Wolves custodians still in action, Robbie Keane is one that fans have hoped would always make a second coming. With rumours circulating the Irish talisman is finally set to return to Molineux, we ask if it’s a case of signing a player with Premiership experience and leadership, or allowing a 37-year-old to be put out to pasture?
It’s been muted fairly often, like Grant Mitchell returning in EastEnders or The Stone Roses reforming. When both of these rumours finally occurred, people began to feel their dream could become a reality. However, it has still continued to evade them. Until, perhaps, this January.
Anyone with a penchant for football are aware of Robbie Keane. Behind his secret brother Roy, he is perhaps the most famous Irish footballer of modern times, known for his healthy strike rate, admirable commitment and somersault celebrations. For those whose beliefs lean towards the Wolves side of things, Keane is all the more feted – the striker cut his teeth in gold and black, scoring 24 goals and starting what would become an internationally acclaimed career.
Ever since Keane departed, the rumours of him returning have been prominent enough to make Voldemort blush. During the team’s Premiership years, they became particularly rife – rumour has it Mick McCarthy was close to cementing his signature during Wolves’ ill-fated 2011/12 campaign, but pesky neighbours Aston Villa got ahead first. Let’s try to forget how that one went down.
The most recent rumour reared its head in the summer, but Keane – having spent an Indian summer scoring regularly in America – seemingly called time on his career by signing up for the Indian Premier League, under the stewardship of former teammate Teddy Sheringham. Fans moved on. No one was truly bothered, except perhaps for those who had witnessed Keane’s original performances. Nuno came and so did a clutch of continental upstarts, all with pace, guile and technical ability. In fact, the thought of Keane signing no longer seemed possible purely for the fact he’d be too far down the pecking order.
But at the start of January came perhaps the most impossible to ignore of all the Keane murmurs. If the press are to be believed, Keane’s deal with ATK looks set to be scrapped so the Dubliner can make an emotional return to Molineux. Of course, this has caused a flurry of frenzied social media activity from fans, who are caught between the nostalgic joy of Keane’s return and the cold hard facts that, at 37, he would offer nothing but grand old memories.
Firstly, let’s get the romanticism out of the way. On the surface, it does seem slightly futile – now pushing 40, Keane lacks the legs needed for Wolves’ pacey front three, and hardly fits into the ‘young and hungry’ mould. In fact, many that saw his last international outing – where he netted against Oman – grimly confirmed he could barely walk, let alone run. With Rafa Mir now cemented as Wolves’ number nine, and with Leo Bonatini still a reliable frontman, it seems a case of Wolves providing something for Keane – the heart-warming notion that he can end his career at the same team with which he started it – rather than the other way around.
However, delve deeper and this is not a purchase driven purely by emotion. Even though he is losing his legs, Keane still has a sharp mind. Crucially, so does Nuno. The Wolves chief will know that buying Keane is not a long-term option, but with the Premiership seemingly only a few points away, having someone with considerable experience of the top flight – probably more than the current Wolves’ XI put together, if truth be told – will be instrumental. He will be another leading voice in the dressing room, someone who truly knows the world Wolves are entering, and will hopefully offer further guidance to Mir, Bonatini and the frustrating talent that is Bright Enobakhare.
It has been done before, where a team destined for the Championship has signed up someone seemingly out-of-step with their structure. Bournemouth did it with the loan capture of Kenwyne Jones, while years before Sunderland signed up Stern John. Both were getting on, both were only there for a brief time, but both made vital contributions in easing the transition from Championship to Premiership. Having Robbie Keane on the bench from now until the end of the season will provide more than just hearty applause from the South Bank – it will provide experience, intensity and, hopefully, promotion.