The Big Interview - Kasey Keller
Thu 18 May 2017, 09:15|Tottenham Hotspur
- 99 appearances for Spurs 2001-04
- 124 appearances for Leicester 1996-99, League Cup winner in 1997
- 22-year career took in spells in USA, England, Germany and Spain
- Capped 102 times by the USA
- Went to the 1990, 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups
- Inducted into the USA National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015
Kasey Keller squeezed just about everything into a 22-year professional career.
Over a century of caps and four World Cups for the USA, cutting his teeth at Millwall, glory days at Leicester, 83 consecutive starts at Spurs, the first American to play in La Liga and a title challenge with Rayo Valecano, only the second American to captain a Bundesliga side during his time at Borussia Monchengladbach before a hero's return home to Seattle, where he played until he was 41.
He even lived in a castle during his time in Germany!
As part of Martin O'Neill's golden spell at the old Filbert Street in the late 1990s, Kasey helped the Foxes lift their first trophy in 28 years - the League Cup in 1997 - and clinch three-successive top 10 finishes in the Premier League. He was also in goal for Leicester against is in the League Cup Final in 1999, won by Allan Nielsen's late, late diving header.
Kasey later played in the final game at Filbert Street as a Spurs player in May, 2002 and then had a game he'll never forget in our first visit to the all-new Walkers Stadium, as it was then (now King Power Stadium) back in October, 2003.
Below: Kasey at Millwall - 1993
Based in Seattle, Kasey was more than happy to talk over his Spurs-Leicester links and reflect on a career to remember...
You joined Leicester from Millwall in 1996 and things really took off from there. What was it about the club at that time?
Kasey Keller: "When I joined Martin O'Neill hadn’t really made a lot of signings. He brought in Spencer Prior and myself a couple of days before the season started. Just before that, he’d bought Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet and Leicester had a great run into the play-offs, won and came up into the Premier League. Martin hadn’t really become Martin O’Neill, as such, no-one knew what was going to happen and I remember everyone predicting we'd get relegated. Martin was obviously very charismatic and inspiring. You met him and you just felt something was going to happen. I only had one day of training before the first game of the season, Sunderland away. We drew 0-0, I had a couple of saves to make but it was that first hurdle for everyone - we were in the Premier League, we kept a clean sheet, we gained a point and we thought 'okay, let’s see what happens'. We then won 2-1 at home against Southampton and it wasn’t a situation where a team has come up, played five games, only got one or two points and suddenly there is a gap before they really get started. We went that season without losing three games in a row and consistently found ways to win points. From a team that was meant to be getting relegated by Christmas, we finished ninth and won the League Cup! In the three years I played we never finished outside the top 10. It’s remarkable really. If you look at the recent history of the Premier League, not many teams will be able to do that."
Below: Flying through their air for Leicester against Chelsea - 1998
What was Martin O'Neill like to play for?
Kasey: "He did a tremendous job in selecting players positionally, players who would play exactly how he wanted to play and exactly how they wanted to play. It wasn’t a case of a manager buying a player and saying ‘okay, now I want you to play this way’. He would think ‘I need a player who can do X, Y and Z’ and there would be 10 other guys doing exactly the same and it worked. It was just putting the right players in the right spots and it all fell into place. We had a great team spirit and if you were one of Martin’s guys, you fought for him and he fought for you. I remember a game at Old Trafford. I could barely walk going into it and Martin said ‘I know you’re not right but go out there and if you play poorly, I’ll take responsibility - but that won’t happen’. In the end, we competed really well and they scored late, typically. He would always have your back."
Filbert Street was Leicester's home for 111 years (1891-2002), what are you memories of the stadium?
Kasey: "We were right in the city centre, one huge stand, another that was really small and pushed up against a street. The development of the main stand was the first process of trying to bring the club forward. There was so much history there and I was lucky to come to England and play at some of the old stadiums like the old Den at Millwall, they had played there for over 80 years, Filbert Street and Derby's Baseball Ground. It was interesting to be part of those transformations and to see what the Premier League would become."
Below: Kasey in typical all-action form against United - 2002
You joined us in 2001 and played every minute of 83-consecutive matches between March, 2002 and August, 2004. What are your memories of Spurs?
Kasey: "You know, the toughest part is looking back and we'd have some really good runs, but we just couldn't maintain any consistency. We all wanted to be successful, to go to the next step. We all felt 'we're the group that will do it' but in my time, it wasn't to be. But I had fantastic experiences playing with the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Gus Poyet, Les Ferdinand, Steffen Freund, Christian Ziege and Ledley King, who was coming through at the time. It was funny when Ledley came out on Tour to the USA with Spurs last summer (we visited Seattle, Toronto and Chicago in the summer of 2014) in his Ambassador role. I was joking with him because he was the senior player at the end of his career and yet I remember him talking to me in the locker room about how he used to watch me when he was a kid! I said to him 'you are still a kid, Ledley!"
Back to Leicester - we were the opponents for the final game at Filbert Street in 2002 and I'm guessing you won't forget our first visit to the new stadium in 2003?
Kasey: "I remember Leicester had already been relegated, there was nothing really on it and we ended up being on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline. I'd played in the last game at the old Den as well and it was nice to be there, even if I was on the rival team and we lost! And 2003, yes, I gave up one of the worst goals of my career (a shot went through his legs). We came back to win and that makes all the difference but as a goalkeeper, you still have to take your medicine! I remember David Pleat saying to me along the lines of that the team stepped up because they wanted to do it for me after that mistake. I don’t know if he actually meant it or was trying to make me feel better but it was a nice thing to say at the time! Who can forget OJ's (Mabulelo 'Old John' Mabizela) goal either? When you make a mistake, you always remember the goal that pulled you out of trouble."
Below: Kasey at home in Germany, his castle 'Haus Donk' - 2006
So from Portland Timbers to Millwall to Leicester to Spurs to Spain, Germany and back to the USA over 22 years - how do you sum all that up?
Kasey: "From the very beginning I always thought I wanted to go to England but I also wanted to play in other countries and experience different leagues. Rayo Valecano was another team that was meant to be relegated and okay, we faded in the end, but after 16 games we were a point ahead of Barcelona! In my second season we reached the quarter-finals of UEFA Cup. Then I had the opportunity to go to Germany and play for a club the size of Gladbach, just before Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup. I lived in a 1,000-year-old castle! You just look back and think ‘that was fun’."
"After all that to be able to come home and finish my career at a new franchise in the MLS in Seattle, who are now averaging over 40,000 (it was 43,734 in 2014) was something special.
"I look back and now, as I get older, I think ‘wow, that all happened’."