Robbie: ‘Claudine’s a fantastic mother and is great with the kids ... we are lucky to have her’
Hanging out with the Beckhams and singer Niall Horan was part of the glitzy lifestyle of footballer Robbie Keane in Los Angeles but could he be about to make a dramatic return to the English game? He talks to Jennifer O'Brien about his hopes for the future and his pride in his wife
It was a light-hearted footnote to an emotional occasion. Backstage at the One Love concert - the star-studded benefit gig held in the wake of the tragic Manchester bombings - pop star Ariana Grande asked Robert Keane if he'd like to hang out with her. Despite having had his photo taken with the likes of Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Liam Gallagher and Will.i.am at the gig, the panicked seven-year-old replied, "No, you're all right."
It's a testament to the parenting skills of footballer Robbie Keane and his wife, Claudine, that their son can still get starstruck, given the glittering world he inhabits in LA. Doting dad Robbie says that giving their children a normal upbringing is a priority for the couple - but admits that it's not always easy.
"Obviously, when you are living in Beverly Hills and your son is going to school there and best friends with Mark Wahlberg's kid, it's a little bit different to growing up in Dublin," he says. "But, Robert is a proper little Dublin lad and loves being home, and we keep him grounded because that's the way it should be. That's the way we were brought up."
Indeed, so grounded is young Robert that there's one person whose celebrity he's firmly unimpressed by - his dad's. "When you have kids, you aren't as cool anymore," Robbie, 36, laughs. "With Robert, he's at a stage now where he has seen me playing and knows who his father is and he's taking advantage of that. The kids in school have these Match Attax stickers that he's obsessed with. He will come up to me with about 10 of them to sign and will swap them for a Messi or a Ronaldo. He's clever and he's using me, and why not? I would do the same thing!"
Robbie and Claudine, 34, who celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary this month, are also parents to 18-month-old Hudson. Both boys feature alongside their model mum in a TV ad for Spar, which is showing at the moment. Robbie describes himself as the "strict one" when it comes to their boys: "They get away with murder with Claudine, definitely!"
Followers of Robbie's Instagram will have seen that Robert Jr certainly has inherited his dad's footballing talents. Would Robbie encourage his son to pursue a career in soccer? "He loves watching the games and, listen, if he wants to be a footballer, great," Robbie says with a wide smile. "People always say, 'Ah, whatever he wants to do is fine,' but every footballer wants their kid to follow in their footsteps - and if he wants to do it, I would be delighted.
"He has something about him all right, a little fire in his belly. All he wants to be is a striker and score goals - I wonder where he gets that?" he grins.
For a man who has spent over six years living in LA, Robbie certainly hasn't picked up even a hint of an American twang. When we meet at Dublin Airport, a faint bronzed glow is all the evidence of his base in the sunshine. He's here to promote Aer Lingus' direct flight from Dublin to LA - a journey he has made countless times in recent years.
The Keanes first made the move across the Atlantic in 2011 when Robbie - the Republic of Ireland's record-breaking goalscorer - signed with LA Galaxy. It was a risky move, he admits.
"When I signed to LA Galaxy, I had never even been to LA so none of us knew what was going to happen with that. Obviously, you see the pictures and think it's a beautiful place, but as to whether you think you will settle, we didn't really have a clue, to be honest. It was very hard at the start."
For Claudine, who had happily moved with him throughout the UK during his career, heading to the West Coast of the US was an entirely different challenge. "I knew that I would settle more than anybody else because I left home when I was 15," Robbie says, sinking back into his chair. "Obviously, it was different for Claudine because you feel that you are so far away that you can't really get to anybody if something happens. But we settled in very quickly."
The years since - during which they lived in Bel Air before moving to Beverly Hills - have been a whirlwind, he says. Aside from success on the pitch, the family made an impact on the glamorous LA social scene, counting the likes of David and Victoria Beckham among their friends in the city. They have been on the red carpet at high-profile events like the Grammys - something, Robbie makes clear, is more his wife's domain than his.
"Claudine does all that kind of stuff and she enjoys it and it's not really my cup of tea," Robbie says convincingly. "If I can avoid red carpets, I will avoid it. When you are in LA, that's just part of the life there. Claudine and I are good at separating things and knowing what we want to go to.
"She enjoys the photo shoots and all that, but that's her thing. I'm not going to turn around and get her to play football, and I leave most of the other stuff to her."
That's not to suggest that Claudine's interests only extend to the glamorous side of life. Having studied economics and finance at UCD, she now dabbles in flipping luxury properties. "Claudine has a very savvy business head on her," Robbie says proudly. "We are lucky that we have lived in different places around the world and come across lots of different properties - she's very good at it. Claudine is very clever and has a degree. We make a great team and it works well for us."
"Most importantly," he continues, eyes lighting up as he talks about his other half, "Claudine's a fantastic mother and is great with the kids - she does everything with them.
"We are very lucky to have her."
Having come to the end of his contract with LA Galaxy at the end of 2016, Robbie and his family are now spending more time back home. But he's at pains to stress he's not quite finished with his professional football career just yet. "It has always been our plan to move back to Ireland, but we won't be back full-time for a bit. It will probably be a couple more years. I've got one more adventure in me and look forward to playing wherever that may be."
Speculation is rife that he could be headed Down Under for a stint with a club in Sydney, or indeed back to the UK to join Harry Redknapp's Birmingham side. Robbie knows better than to reveal too much, but stresses, "We will definitely be back putting roots down in Ireland in the next couple of years."
He already has a firm plan in place for when he does eventually retire as a player. "Coaching is definitely what I want to do. I've done my coaching badges and always did them off-season back here. I've finished my licence. It's just in you - I want to pass my knowledge and experiences I've had on to younger players. That's something I'm very excited about.
"I've done some punditry over the years - been in TV studios with Sky and stuff like that - but if you were asking me to choose between being a pundit and coaching, then coaching is definitely what I want to do.
"I enjoy the day-to-day stuff, and getting up and having a routine in the morning. I want to hold on to that and don't want to be sitting around at home and waiting for something to come along in the evening time. When you have played for so long and love going on the pitch every day and being with the lads... that's me.
"People can forget about you quickly when you leave football, so for me, it was important to have those coaching badges in place for when I do finish playing.
"If a coaching opportunity comes up, then I will be ready."
Robbie is well aware of the dangers that an idle retirement can bring for a sports-person who has led a strictly disciplined life since his teens - not least to the waistline. "You see a lot of ex-players get heavy and put a lot of weight on because they are out of their routine. That is something I won't be doing, I can tell you," he says, before making a wide gesture with his hands and laughing, "You will see me now in five years and I could be out like that… Nah, I can guarantee you that won't happen to me."
Not that he doesn't ever indulge in the social side of things - he likes to get together with former One Direction star Niall Horan to have a bit of craic.
"I know Niall for a good few years: he's based in LA and we see quite a bit of him. Myself and Niall have a couple of pints every now and again, and he will get the guitar out and we will sing. When you get two Irish lads in LA who have a few pints, then that is going to happen. There is always going to be a sing-song and he's a great lad."
You get the impression that Robbie has taken young Niall under his wing as kind of an older-brother figure in Los Angeles. "I've lived in LA for a long time and would put him in the right direction in terms of places to go," Robbie agrees. "He has his head well screwed on his shoulders."
Robbie intends for his own boys to grow up with their heads similarly screwed on, no matter where they are living. It's clear that the LA lifestyle has grabbed more than a little of Robbie's heart, and he says the family are always likely to keep a home there.
"The LA you experience living there is different from what people might think from afar. There's a lot of family time, heading to the beach in Malibu and Santa Monica. We love the place and will always continue to go back there as a family. It's a place that's been very, very good to us."
- Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin to Los Angeles daily until August 31, and four times a week thereafter. After pre-clearing US immigration, passengers can enjoy a complimentary meal and inflight entertainment on board. To book, see aerlingus.com