Latin philosopher St. Augustine once said that “he who loses himself in his passion loses less than he who loses his passion.” For New Zealand midfielder Dan Keat, holder of a degree in political science from the prestigious Dartmouth College in the USA, passion is more than just a state of mind: it is his driving force.
“It’s what has always pushed me to want to be a professional,” the newly capped international told FIFA.com. Keat has endured a succession of injury set-backs in his career. However, despite having the kind of university background that could open doors to a brilliant career away from football, he remains determined to succeed on the pitch.
Keat, who made his full international debut in a friendly against Jamaica on 29 February, knows that his journey to the top has been an unusual one. And he recognises how fortunate he is to be able to live out his dream with only self-imposed pressure to succeed. “I have one of the best qualifications in the world to fall back on, so it’s an amazing opportunity for me to be able to concentrate purely on my football,” said the LA Galaxy midfielder, who captained the Kiwis at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, but it’s pressure that comes from my own ambition as a sportsman. My four years at Dartmouth have given me a freedom that other players don’t have, and I realise how lucky I am to have had that education.”
But luck has not always smiled on the 24-year-old. Three years before taking his first steps in international football, the former Team Wellington attacking midfielder was invited to England for a trial with Blackburn Rovers. Keat was 16 at the time, and he already knew that his future lay away from his homeland. However, a fractured ankle scuppered his plans and his trial was unsuccessful. The youngster was then dealt a second blow in 2008 when, shortly before the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing, and having played in every qualifier, he suffered a further injury. With it, his hopes of representing New Zealand at the Games were shattered.
Third time unlucky
The 2011 MLS champion bounced back and enjoyed two of his best seasons to date in the American university league, but his performances were not enough to earn an approach from an MLS club. Keat was not picked until the third round of the 2010 Supplemental Draft, but with LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena convinced of his potential, he eventually signed a contract.
It was a case of third time unlucky for the Kiwi, however, as he suffered yet another injury during a pre-season training camp and had to wait until June 2011 for his first professional appearance in the City of Angels. He finally made his debut against Real Madrid, in front of 56,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Five matches and a league title later, Keat says he remains “grateful to Bruce Arena.” Given the midfielder’s recent progress, the feeling is almost certainly mutual. “I have more to offer this year,” Keat explained. “I’m making the most of my versatility and ability to read the game, and I’m using it to show that I’m more than just a substitute – whichever position I play in.”
Reigning MLS champions LA Galaxy have started the new season poorly, with one win and three defeats on the board so far. But their stuttering form has worked in Keat’s favour, and he is gradually proving that he merits a place in the Galaxy’s star-studded starting line-up. “Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham play passes that others here can’t, and they know how to find space and make space for other players,” said Keat, who is keen to earn a regular spot in a New Zealand national side that he has long had to follow from afar. “It’s not easy to establish yourself here with so much quality in the group, but it helps me improve.”
Balance and desire
“I’m not surprised that I had to wait five years between the U-20 World Cup and my first full international call-up,” Keat admitted. “Over the last five years, the national side has made enormous progress. You now have to be playing at a high professional level if you’re to have any hope of being picked, and there are many more Kiwis now playing in good foreign leagues. There’s more pressure on the coach to pick the best, but it’s fantastic for the country.”
New Zealand recently qualified for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, and the Kiwis are strong favourites to represent Oceania at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. For his part, Keat believes the foundations are in place for a repeat of the excitement that swept the country in 2010. “New Zealand is a rugby nation, so to see such scenes of joy at the airport on our return from South Africa was historic for football in our country,” he said. “We need to build on that. Against Jamaica, we had seven players under the age of 25 in the starting eleven. The team is younger, but there are still experienced players in there. It’s the right balance.”
As far as Keat is concerned, the perfect balance consists of a healthy international career, which he describes as “the pride of every player,” and a future playing in a major championship. “I would really like to play in a country that lives for football,” he concluded. His passion has already got him this far, so, with a bit of luck thrown in, his wish may just come true.