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Robbie Keane will bring life support to Aston Villa squad

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With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Robbie Keane knew the exact riposte to a hack who cheekily asked which team the striker had really supported as a boy.

With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Robbie Keane knew the exact riposte to a hack who cheekily asked which team the striker had really supported as a boy.

"Villa" was the Irishman's answer, as he held back the smirk before he exited the stage to much laughter among the assembled media.

And Keane's self-effacing light-hearted response to a long-running joke among football fans' on precisely where his boyhood allegiance lay gives an indication of part of the reason why boss Alex McLeish decided to bring the former Wolves striker to Villa Park.

For much of the season, there has been a tense atmosphere at the club. It felt at times as if the fun had gone out of football.

So the arrival of a character with infectious enthusiasm could be exactly the shot in the arm Villa need at this stage of the season to lift spirits, as they prepare to face Everton with the nagging worry that they have not won at home since November 5.

Jokes about playing for his boyhood club aside Keane, who almost joined Villa from Wolves as a 19-year-old in 1999, is simply relishing another chance to do what he does best.

"I could easily be sitting on the beach now," said Keane. "But I enjoy being around the lads. I love playing football and love training. As long as I feel good and don't get too many injuries, I'll play as long as I can, regardless of where that is.

"I'm not one of those players who likes to sit on my backside and collect my money. I'm one of those players who likes to play and I've always been like that since I was a kid.

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"The plan was to have a break and train with Tottenham. I had the exact time I wanted off and this opportunity arose and I decided to do it.

"LA Galaxy are not playing for a while, their pre-season is a lot longer and there is a lot more travelling to do. It just worked out perfectly for myself and, hopefully, for Villa.

"Although I haven't worked with Alex before, he knows what I'm as like as a player and the lads here will have told him I'm not a bad influence, that I'll try and help players and encourage people.

"I'll certainly be doing that while I'm here."

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A lot has changed on the footballing landscape since John Gregory's pursuit of Keane 13 years ago, when the teenager joined Coventry for £6m.

Although the 31-year-old Keane believes Villa are getting a better player now than they would have got back in 1999.

He said: "Yes, of course, when you're 17-18 you're full of energy and sometimes you do silly running for no reason. Just because of the energy that you have.

"When you get older and play the amount of games I have, you get wiser, you read the game better than you do when you were 17.

"There has been speculation between me and Villa over the years. Every transfer window, it seems to talks about me signing for Villa.

"I'm here now and hopefully I will make a good impact. I'm not here for personal reasons and to try and get all the glory. What impact can one player make in six games or so? Hopefully it will be a good one. I hope it works out well for both parties. I don't think I'm running a risk to my reputation by doing this. I've had a good career in the Premier League and scored a lot of goals.

"I will be doing my utmost to help the team. Hopefully I can do well and the fans appreciate the commitment I put in, that's all I can ask for."

With Villa short of goals, Keane is eager to be involved against Everton and the striker has good memories of his encounters with the Toffees.

He said: "I feel in good enough nick to make my debut. The week I had at Tottenham was tough and a good blow for me.

"I've scored a few against Everton. The hat-trick against them at White Hart Lane stands out. If I can do that again, great, but first I have to get myself into the team.

"I'm not naive enough to think I'll start every game. I want to, of course. I'm not coming here to be happy to sit on the bench."

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