Taking time out from training at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex, the former Tottenham, Liverpool and Ireland striker speaks to Vision Sport about his love for Dubai. Words by Gruffudd Owen
His storied club career has already seen him traverse England, Scotland, the USA and Italy, accumulating over 700 appearances and more than 300 goals for ten different sides as one of European football’s most distinguished marksmen of the past twenty years.
But for Robbie Keane – a man who has rubbed shoulders with former US president Barack Obama at the White House and who can count footballing legends such as Ronaldo, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard as former teammates – the city of Dubai has an equal degree of significance.
The emirate has become something of a second home for Keane and his family since they first started visiting on holiday ten years ago, and with the striker currently looking for a new club, he has used his most recent visit as an opportunity to keep up his fitness by training with UAE Arabian Gulf League outfit Al-Ahli FC at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex.
And Keane needs no coaxing into offering his thoughts on the state-of-the-art facility.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he tells Vision Sport.
“I’ve been playing professional football for twenty years. Tottenham Hotspur’s new training ground is one of the best I’ve seen, but this is just on a different level.
“I was blown away when I first walked in; I’ve never seen anything like it before.
“I can see why a lot of teams come here to train and use the facilities, and for someone like me who is here to keep fit, train and use the gym and pool facilities, it’s ideal.”
The ultra-modern amenities on offer is certainly one reason why Dubai is becoming an increasingly popular pre- and mid-season destination for the world’s biggest football clubs.
Another, of course, is the climate. With the cold, arduous winter months back in Europe often proving to be the undoing of a club’s season, Keane is eager to stress how beneficial it is to escape to the sunny surroundings of Dubai for recovery and rejuvenation, if only for a few days.
“The foreign managers do it quite a bit; they’re accustomed to that warm weather training,” he explains.
“I used to come to Dubai on the odd occasion and train with Tottenham. It’s helpful for the players, and sometimes it’s just nice to get away from the training ground back home and experience a different environment and different training facilities. It definitely refreshes the players.”
Keane’s prowess in front of goal has seen him play for some of the biggest teams in world football including Liverpool, Tottenham and Inter Milan, but it is for his exploits as the lucky charm of the Irish national team that he will perhaps be most fondly remembered.
As well as his country’s all-time leading goalscorer and appearance-maker, he is also the only footballer in the history of the game to have registered at least one international goal in nineteen consecutive seasons, while no one has ever scored as many goals in European Championship qualification matches than him.
Naturally, these remarkable achievements are a source of great pride for Keane.
“The proudest moment for me has always been putting the green jersey on,” he reveals.
“I’ve said before that the green jersey was the one that always seemed to fit me best.
“Growing up on the streets of Dublin, I would never have dreamt of winning over 140 caps and scoring 68 goals for my country.
“As a proud Irishman, I’ll never forget memories like those.”
Keane retired from international duty last summer, and at 36 years old there will soon come a day when he decides to call time on his playing career altogether.
However, his affection for Dubai will doubtless persist long after he scores his final goal as a professional footballer.
“I just love it,” he says.
“I think the people are great; they’re very friendly and helpful. It’s a beautiful place, and it’s only six-and-a-half hours away from home.
“It’s basically got everything for everybody: kids and adults. It’s the reason why I’ve been coming back for the last ten years.”