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Robbie Keane – from scoring to coaching

Coaching Coach

Robbie Keane enjoyed a splendid career as a dangerous English Premier League and international striker – and the Irishman tells us how he is now hoping to make a similar impact as a coach.

Robbie Keane speaks at UEFA's UEFA Pro Licence Student Exchange course
Robbie Keane speaks at UEFA's UEFA Pro Licence Student Exchange course ©UEFA

With the kind of speed which saw him torment defenders in the English Premier League and at international level, Robbie Keane started his coaching career in 2018, the same year that he hung up his boots after 21 seasons as a professional footballer.

However, for Keane, now assistant manager with Middlesbrough FC and the Republic of Ireland, this was no knee-jerk decision. A keen student of the game, the Republic of Ireland’s record goalscorer had been working on his UEFA coaching badges for six years prior to his first coaching appointment.

Robbie Keane listens to a presentation at the course
Robbie Keane listens to a presentation at the course©UEFA

The transition from player to coach, the art of goalscoring, and the varying challenges of coaching at club and international level were among the topics Keane covered in his talk to student coaches at the UEFA Pro Licence Student Exchange course in Nyon. 

Speaking to UEFA.com, Keane – who scored 68 goals in a record 146 appearances for the Republic of Ireland – reflected on his decision to become a coach: “When you’re young, when you’re 21 years of age, you don’t think about coaching,” he explained. That’s just normal because you’re so young, you’re focused on what you’re doing, you’re just starting your career.

"As the latter stages of your career come, it’s certainly something that you think about. When I reached 30, it was certainly something that I would watch closely, in terms of managers and how they treated me, how they treated players, how they speak to people, how they speak to the media, how they put training sessions on, so I’d always look closely, without them really knowing that I’m watching – so it was certainly something that I definitely had an eye on.”

Turning to the transition from playing to coaching, Keane added: “[Playing] gives you the experience of the dressing room. It gives you the experience of the fans, it gives you the experience of going to away games, going on a Tuesday night away [from home] somewhere in December. You know how to deal with the media as a player, so you already kind of half understand, so you’ve already got a foot forward in terms of some of the hazards.

One of Keane's 68 goals for the Republic of Ireland - against Gibraltar in 2014
One of Keane's 68 goals for the Republic of Ireland - against Gibraltar in 2014©Getty Images

"But that doesn’t mean that you’re still going to be as good as coaches who haven’t played. It just gives you experience, it’s how you treat people, how you speak to people, how you respect people.” 

Keane, whose clubs as a player included Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Leeds, as well as LA Galaxy in the United States, has a committed coaching philosophy to pass on that experience to his players. “I think people forget about small details,” he said. “Anybody can put a training session on. We’ve all done training sessions; I’ve done training sessions for 20 years. I’ve been in training sessions for 20 years, but with different managers with different variations and different styles of how they want to do things.

"But the key factor is the small detail. If one player can take one little thing away from the training session that will help him improve as a player, or give him the knowledge that we want him to take into a game on the Saturday, then we’ve already been successful.”

Among the other speakers at the UEFA course were Northern Ireland national team coach Michael O’Neill, former FC Basel president Bernhard Heusler, Sergio Lara-Bercial, Reader in Sport Coaching at Leeds Beckett University, and Josh Hershman, managing director of Ten Toes Media.

During the discussions, heavy emphasis was placed on the key themes from last season’s UEFA Champions League, as outlined in the newly-released 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Technical Report. Technical reports provide important insights into European football's technical and tactical development – and they can now be found on a dedicated UEFA website – www.uefatechnicalreports.com