The most expensive teenager in the world when he moved from Wolves in 1999, Robbie Keane still has fond memories of his upbringing at the club.
After joining Wolves Academy as a 15-year-old, the goal scorer went on to find the back of the net more than 300 times for a dozen clubs throughout his career, including scoring 68 goals in 146 appearances for the Republic of Ireland national team.
Announcing his retirement in November after a 21-year playing career, Keane has now joined the former Wolves managerial team of Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor in heading Ireland's attempts at reaching Euro 2020.
But earlier this season, he spoke about his time at the other end of his career with Wolves.
Robbie, thank you so much for your time. Could you start by telling us how your move to the Wolves Academy came about?
I moved over from Ireland just four days before my 16th birthday. Before that I was just playing with my friends during the week and also playing for Crumlin United. Wolves had quite a good scouting network over in Ireland and Chris Evans, the Academy manager at the time, heard good things and came over to watch me. I had trials at several clubs, but Wolves was where I felt most at home, so I took a chance and came over. I’m so glad that I did. I lived with an amazing family and Wolverhampton is such a nice place. The club and the people of the town were so friendly, and I fell in love with the area.
What are your earliest memories of being a member of the Academy?
It was an enormous change to leave home and move over to England, especially for a young lad. But everyone at Wolves made me feel welcome and I settled in really easily. The people of Wolverhampton were brilliant with me. They are also some of the nicest you can meet. I really enjoyed my time there and have so many great memories.
Are you still friends with anyone from your time with the Academy?
I’m still in contact with a lot of lads. Matt Murray is someone who I speak to regularly, as well as Lee Naylor and Keith Andrews, who was also in the national team with me. Looking back on my time at the Academy, we had such a good youth team. It’s great to see so many of the lads go on to have great careers, especially Matty and Nails who gave their all to Wolves.
What was it like for you to make the transition into the first team?
I came to Wolves with the ambition of playing for the first team. That was always my goal. I was fortunate that I was at a club who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to develop as a player. There’s not many clubs who allow young players to play with the first team, but Wolves were, and it was a dream to sign for the senior team. They had some great players at the time; Steve Bull, Don Goodman, and they were brilliant with us young lads and made us feel like part of the group.
You made your debut for the first team at 17-years-old. Did you feel there was a lot of expectation, especially as there was a lot of hype surrounding you at the time?
I never felt under pressure, despite the expectation that was on me. I knew from playing in pre-season that I was scoring goals and there were people saying good things about me. I was more excited to make my debut that nervous, or pressured. Like I said, when I moved to England, my aim was always to play for the Wolves first team, so when I was told I was playing against Norwich I was prepared. But I never expected to have the game I did. To score two goals in a 2-0 win on your debut is the stuff dreams are made of.
You’ve had such a spectacular 20-year career. Do you have a favourite memory?
I’ve had so many good moments which I will always remember. But one of my favourite moments has to be playing in the World Cup for Ireland [in 2002]. When you are young, you always dream about playing for your country in a World Cup, so to not just play in the tournament, but to score an injury-time equaliser against Germany was something that not many people will ever experience. And obviously scoring two goals on my debut for Wolves will be something I will always treasure.
Finally Robbie, is there one thing you learnt during your time at Wolves which you feel helped your career?
That is such a difficult question. I don’t think I could I could narrow it down to one thing because I learnt so much during my time there. I was lucky that as young lad of 16 that I could come to a club like Wolves and be given the support and help I needed to become a senior player. Wolves have always been a club who give young players a chance. You can tell from the quality of the players who have come through the Academy and gone on to become top players. But the grounding and support they gave me as a young player was fantastic and it is something I will always be grateful for.
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus Tottenham Hotspur matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured content with Raul Jimenez, Ryan Bennett and Romain Saiss. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.