All due respect to Landon Donovan, no man in an L.A. Galaxy uniform has been more responsible in forging a Major League Soccer dynasty than veteran striker Robbie Keane.
I was on the record two years ago saying that the passionate, highly productive Irishman should have been Major League Soccer’s MVP for 2013. There was a little bit of “Lifetime Achievement Award” feel last year when Keane did claim the honor – but given the man’s previous and perhaps under-recognized contributions, I was fine with that.
His output in the MLS regular season (54 goals in 86 games) and in the playoffs (9 in 17 games) has been outstanding. Both are north of half a goal a game, the typical benchmark for an A-list striker.
So it’s with some pain that I have to say this: if Keane and the Galaxy are attempting to work a contract extension as a recent report has indicated, the MLS club would be smarter to take a pass.
Keane turns 35 this year. There is zero evidence that 35-year-old Robbie Keane can’t be every bit as heroically productive as early-30s Robbie Keane has been. That said, nothing lasts forever.
Here’s what Keane recently told Soccer Republic on RTE TV in Ireland:
“I’ve still got a year left at the Galaxy and we’re negotiating another contract at the moment, so that will keep me there for a few more years.”
A “few more years” would have the Galaxy paying a 37- or 38-year old striker will into the millions. Galaxy ownership can afford it, of course, but league salary cap implications (mostly those Designated Player limitations) would make it problematic. It’s doubtful that Keane could continue to be a consistent starter at that point. MLS rosters simply do not have room for a luxury striker, an 0ff-the-bench millionaire to be deployed the way, say, Jose Mourinho uses Didier Drogba at Chelsea.
Beyond 2015, Keane has an option remaining on his current deal, which the Galaxy could exercise. The current deal pays him $4.5 million, placing Keane among the top paid MLS men. It’s a fair rate today; whether it’s a reasonable price to pay “tomorrow,” as Keane slips inexorably into the last days of his career, that’s much harder to say.
Would the Galaxy really offer Keane a deal at a similar price for “a few more years?”
It is true that Thierry Henry was 37 when he played his last MLS match, and he was a show-stopper until the very end. But the French World Cup winner was a different player, strategically picking and choosing his spots to drift inside or outside, further back or further forward, choosing prudently when to make himself a bigger part of the game.
Keane’s game is all about off-the-ball movement, about hopping in and out of spaces, about maneuvering wisely to remain out of view, just off a defender’s shoulder. It’s about hell-bent sprints into space, whether that is to receive a ball or to create width or open a passing lane for someone else.
When he can’t do all that effectively throughout an entire match, his effectiveness will wane.
It’s interesting that none other than Jurgen Klinsmann has already more or less chimed in on this one. Here’s what the U.S. national team manager said last year about awarding athletes what we might call legacy contracts:
“This always happens in America,” Klinsmann said. “Kobe Bryant, for example – why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. He gets it for what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened.”
Why indeed. The Galaxy should exercise the option year (for 2016) or play nice about it and let Keane go after this season if that’s what he wants. Past that? Take a pass.
Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk.
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