ROBBIE KEANE’S star may have shone brightly on occasions at Elland Road, but it faded away all too quickly amid those crazy days of the early noughties.
The young Irishman’s prowess was there for all to see during a productive loan spell in the second half of 2000-01 which turned into a permanent £13m transfer from Inter Milan that May, but it sadly proved the high point.
No future glories and trophy trails for LA Galaxy striker Keane – who turns 34 tomorrow – the man who brought him in David O’Leary and for Leeds, which many supporters were entitled to contemplate with confidence when he arrived at the club in the winter of 2000. Anything seemed possible back then. The grave implications of United’s failure to qualify for the 2001/02 Champions League have been spoken about for the past decade, with it triggering not just the ultimate descent of a team, but a club, with Keane one of the casualties unwittingly caught in the crossfire.
After nine goals in 18 top-flight appearances, his first – and only – full campaign as a Whites player in 2001/02 represented a disappointment and the following summer as the club started to wrestle with significant financial issues as the Peter Ridsdale era started to unravel, he found himself sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £7m just before the transfer deadline on August 31, 2002.
That season, Keane went on to score against Terry Venables’ Leeds twice. A fateful intervention then saw Keane nudge United closer to the top-flight trapdoor with the only goal of the game at Elland Road in January 2004 – as he elected to forego his trademark cartwheel celebration out of respect for his former employers, who were destined for the drop. A fair bit of that was seen during his initial salvos at United, with the Dubliner hitting his first goal for the club from the spot in the 1-1 draw with Venables’ Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day 2001.
January proved an enriching month for the young striker, who ended it in spectacular fashion when he fired in a brilliant overhead kick to settle the issue in a 1-0 victory over Coventry City, much to the chagrin of his former manager at the Sky Blues, ex-United captain Gordon Strachan.
Keane also netted a brace in a powerhouse 4-0 victory at Manchester City to ingratiate himself fully with Leeds punters and another seasonal highlight arrived with the key first goal to break the resistance of Leeds’ bitter foes Chelsea that spring in a 2-0 victory.
A full-time Leeds contract was duly signed following the end of that campaign, but with Mark Viduka and Robbie Fowler being United’s front two of choice the following season, it proved a distinctly more difficult time to Keane. That 2001/02 season saw him hit 15 goals, but six of them arrived in the green of the Republic of Ireland, three in the World Cup finals in Korea and Japan in the summer of 2002, with just two coming in the league for Leeds.
For Keane, the peak arguably arrived with a League Cup hat-trick against managerless Leicester in a 6-0 drubbing in October 2001, but it proved not to be the precursor of things to come and Keane endured a considerable barren streak in the Premier League.