EXCLUSIVE: Former Chelsea and Melbourne Victory midfielder Joe Keenan has signed a one-year deal with VPL club South Melbourne.
The 27-year-old English midfielder joins fellow former Victory alumnae Daniel Vasilevski and ex-Dutch league keeper Peter Zois in Vaughan Coveny's squad for season 2010.
Keenan joined Chelsea as a teenager and made his first team debut aged just 19, in February 2002 replacing John Terry in a game against Aston Villa. He appeared again the same month when he came off the bench for Gianfranco Zola in an FA Cup match against Preston.
He was given a four year deal in 2002 and was seen as a hot prospect by former manager Claudio Rainieri. But he broke his leg while playing in the reserves soon after signing the new contract, putting him out of action for much of the 2002/3 season, although he did play again as a first team sub against Newcastle later that year.
When Jose Mourinho took over, he fell out of favour at the club, didn't feature in their first team plans, and was loaned out.
He had stints with Willem II and in Belgium before landing at Melbourne Victory for season three of the A-League. He returned to Europe to join Hibs in 2008 but parted ways with the Easter Road club last August following new boss John Hughes' arrival.
Since then, the Southampton-born 27-year-old has trained with English conference league team Salisbury City to maintain his fitness before commencing pre-season with South this week.
Keenan arrived back in the country last week and spoke with au.fourfourtwo.com.
What do you want to get out this move to South Melbourne FC?
The timing's really good. I got back last week; my wife's Australian and South has fantastic facilities and is coached by someone I've got a lot of respect for. I'm 27 and I'm at the so-called peak of my career and I want to play. I've played the last ten years of my life in constant football employment as a pro-footballer learning everything I've learned, and I've missed the atmosphere in the dressing room.
What do you know about South?
When I played for Victory I watched a couple of their games and we sometimes trained at their facilities and you could see they had a big history and a lovely little stadium. Victory never had a base like them and for a VPL club they've got the backroom staff like a professional club. It makes it pleasant to be down there.
How do you look upon your one-season stint in the A-League with Melbourne Victory? Did they get to see the best of you?
No, I wouldn't say so. It was disappointing for me career-wise. It was always going to be difficult the season after winning the Premiership - they were immense. Then the next season was always going to be hard to top that and that was possibly in a few people's minds. I got an injury half-way through the season and I had another year on my contract but it was made clear to me they were looking at new faces so I didn't want to stay around where I wasn't wanted. And I was playing in a position that probably wasn't my best position as a left back. But I'm more of a midfielder.
What's your take on the new Melbourne A-League club?
Of course it would be great to get involved in an A-League club again. And it's great for Melbourne to have a derby game. I played in Holland with Willem II so I've got that Dutch background but I'm honestly not thinking about that. I've signed for South, I'm playing for South and that's the focus and whatever happens, happens.
After leaving Victory it was quite an unusual time for you. A trial match for the Jets at Budgewoi in front of 200 fans then your new club Hibs played Barcelona in a pre-season friendly. Do tell us more...
[Laughs] Budgewoi, how can I forget that name! I'd got injured for that Barcelona friendly so I was watching it and I think we probably felt like the Budgewoi players did against the Jets. We got the run around against Barca. I think we lost 6-0 - it was 4-0 at half-time. Actually it was Barcelona's first game of their pre-season but Messi was running rampant for about 45 minutes. He was running about like he was playing in a Cup Final. They were real professional even if they were only playing Hibs but they were still putting in the effort. It shows you the level of the players that they can do that in the first pre-season game of the season. There was no joking or fun, they were all up for it.
Away from your career, your thoughts on the draws for England and Australia at South Africa 2010?
England would be happy with that I'd imagine. Australia have got a good chance. There are four good teams in that group and in World Cups it's a case of who turns up on the day. I think each team can beat each other on the day and just because Germany are traditionally a strong team I'm not so sure they have the strongest team they've had in recent years. They're a big name but I think Australia can beat them Ghana will be difficult too and Serbia what a great qualification they had. It's going to be tricky but I definitely think it's open and no-one's unbeatable.