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Former Wolves star joins Boro – two decades after he could have signed

Former Wolves striker Robbie Keane has joined Middlesbrough as assistant head coach – two decades after he almost joined them as a player.

The 38-year-old has gone to the Championship club as number two to new head coach Jonathan Woodgate, who has agreed a three-year contract. The pair were team-mates at Leeds and Tottenham and Woodgate succeeds Tony Pulis.

Keane will combine his role at Boro with a similar job with the Republic of Ireland, where he assists manager and former Wolves boss Mick McCarthy. He had to gain the permission of McCarthy and the FAI before agreeing to take the club role.

The much-travelled former Tottenham, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Villa, LA Galaxy and Ireland forward almost signed for Boro in 1999 from Wolves only to opt to join Coventry, becoming Britain’s most expensive teenager at £6m after 29 goals in 87 games at Molineux. The Dubliner, who is Ireland’s record appearance maker and goalscorer, was close to making an emotional return to Molineux in January 2018 under Nuno Espirito Santo but opted to see out his contract at Indian Premier League club ATK.

Keane wants to be a top manager one day and said: “This is a great opportunity for me on my pathway to a manager’s job in the future and I am very excited about it.

I am also grateful to the FAI and to Mick McCarthy for allowing me to take this role and to continue with Ireland. I made it very clear to everyone at Middlesbrough that I would not be coming here if I had to give up my Ireland role and they are happy to agree.

Ireland means everything to me as it always has done and I look forward now to helping the team in our bid to make the Euro finals and those games in Dublin.”

Keane says he will use both jobs as a learning curve towards his ultimate aim of becoming a manager himself one day, and revealed he has returned to another of his former clubs Tottenham, to learn from head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

I’m not desperate for a job,” he said, “I don’t need a job and I’m enjoying what I am doing now. I want to learn as much as I can. And I will know when the right time is for me to move on and to be the head coach or the manager.

So at this moment in time, learning from Mick, learning from (Mauricio) Pochettino and going to the Spurs’ training ground any time that I want to go. I am doing a lot of observing and I hope that it will stand me in good stead when I go forward.”

Woodgate was thrilled when his former Tottenham team-mate confirmed he would join him at Boro on Thursday and the Irishman headed back for Teesside before Friday’s confirmation.

We all know Robbie Keane and that he offers a lot,” said Woodgate. “Can you imagine the young players at this football club learning from Robbie Keane?”

The pair will be in a Boro dugout for the first time on July 5 when they face Austrian Regional League side Grazer AK in a pre-season friendly.

Keane, who met with Boro chiefs at their Rockliffe training ground on Tuesday night before heading back to Dublin to ponder the offer of joining the coaching staff, joins two other former Wolves players at Boro in captain George Friend and midfielder George Saville.

McCarthy said: “I am thrilled for Robbie as he takes the next step in his path to becoming a top manager. He told me about it the minute he was offered the job and I told him that it was only a runner if he continued with Ireland.

We are building for the future with this Ireland team and Robbie is a key part of that. He has made a big impression on the players and the staff already as my assistant coach and this new role will only improve him which works for Middlesbrough and, most importantly, for Ireland.”

FAI president Donal Conway today echoed the thoughts of McCarthy, saying: “Robbie is an Irish football legend and we wish him well with this new appointment.

He has served Ireland magnificently as a player, as a captain and now as a coach. The experience he gains at Middlesbrough can only improve Robbie as a coach with Ireland and we look forward to seeing the effect that brings to our national team and our Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.”

Woodgate and Keane are joined in a new-look Boro backroom set-up by Leo Percovich, who was previously on the coaching staff at the Riverside from 2013-17, and one-time Boro goalkeeper Danny Coyne, as goalkeeping coach.

Pulis was sacked after Boro failed to make the play-offs, finishing seventh, one point behind Derby. Boro fans criticised the style of play under Pulis, and the club are keen to stress there will be a different philosophy under Woodgate.

Head of Recruitment Operations Adrian Bevington said: “We’re really clear we’re looking to build a club identity, a style of play that is recognisable as Middlesbrough Football Club with a clear philosophy,” he said.

It gives us a golden thread that will run right through the club and all the age groups, which Jonathan is passionate about.”