Robbie Keane, Avram Grant meet as ATK take on NorthEast United to avoid bottom rung in ISL
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Robbie Keane, Avram Grant meet as ATK take on NorthEast United to avoid bottom rung in ISL

EX-ATK coach Teddy Sheringham has wished me luck, says player-manager Robbie Keane ahead of Indian Super League (ISL) match against Avram Grant’s NorthEast United FC on Sunday.

football Updated: Mar 03, 2018 20:08 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Indian Super League,ISL 2017-18,ISL
In a season that has unravelled spectacularly for ATK --- going into the competition as Indian Super League (ISL) champions, they are one loss away from finishing last --- Robbie Keane will be the first player-manager in the franchise’s history.(ISL / SPORTZPICS)

It is a measure of football’s ability to surprise that Avram Grant and Robbie Keane again find themselves on opposite sides of a pitch in a city that, for all its passion for the sport, is literally and metaphorically far removed from the theatres one would usually associate their contests with.

“Nothing surprises me in football anymore,” said Grant, 63, here on Saturday. Appointed to arrest another season of discontent at NorthEast United, the best Grant can do is to ensure that they end second-last. That can only happen if the visitors beat defending champions ATK who have named Keane as player-manager, their third appointment in the fourth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) after Teddy Sheringham was sacked and Ashley Westwood stepped down.

Grant recalled how Keane scored against his Chelsea side when they played Tottenham Hotspur and how the ATK marquee got injured in his first game when they were together at West Ham in 2011. “Robbie is a fantastic player,” said the Israeli who succeeded Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in 2007 and was the youngest to helm the Israel national team in 2002.

In a season that has unravelled spectacularly for ATK --- going into the competition as champions, they are one loss away from finishing last --- Keane will be the first player-manager in the franchise’s history. “I am not trying to dress this up or offer excuses but there have been so many injuries and so many changes. I have had three different injuries which really is a first time in 20 years of football but it has been an experience I have learnt a lot from,” said Keane, 37.

Five goals in eight games --- one-third of what ATK has managed this season --- including a superb free-kick against Delhi Dynamos is proof of how effective Keane can still be.

“Such ups and downs are part of football and I am not willing to mourn. I am focusing on tomorrow’s game and then hopefully we can go on to win the Super Cup,” said the man who led Ireland for 10 years, has been coached by Mick McCarthy and Giovanni Trapattoni among others and wished good luck by Sheringham. “He (Sheringham) sent me a text,” Keane.

“I got to know about this only in the last couple of days but I have taken my coaching badges (UEFA A and B licenses) and have, over the years, watched training sessions being conducted and interacted with coaching staff. Hopefully, it is preparing me for the future,” said Keane.

This match between two bottom-placed teams --- ATK are ninth with 13 points and NEUFC are last on 11 after 17 games --- thus could be something for the Irish legend to build on.

First Published: Mar 03, 2018 20:08 IST