While Ireland still basks in the light of the Brian O’Driscoll love-in, his counterpart on the national football team doesn’t always enjoy 100% support. But when the history of the Irish game is written, Robbie Keane will rightly be spoken of in the same breath as our retired rugby icon. Keane still has a vital role to play in the Republic’s future fortunes. Only when he’s gone will we realise what we’ve missed.
It still beggars belief how some Irish fans can be so scathing in their criticism of Keane. A sizeable number continue to suggest his days in an Irish shirt are over. The 33-year-old was just named senior player of the year for his eight goals in 2013, a campaign that saw him become Ireland most-capped player. He also took his haul as the nation’s highest scorer in history to 62.
So let’s look at some of the myths that persist around the Irish captain.
He has nothing to contribute to the Irish team.
He scored eight goals last year including the lead at home to Sweden and a hattrick versus the Faroe Islands. Many called time on his career immediately after Euro 2012. That would be the same tournament we never would have reached without his contribution of seven goals and he’s still scoring at club level on a regular basis.
He’s operating at a lower level in MLS
Lower than what? The English Championship, where along with bottom-half Premier League clubs, our players operate, or sit on the bench? Twelve players named in the squad for the Serbia friendly play below the Premier League while Anthony Stokes plies his trade in Scotland. After Keane, the Irish squad’s current top goalscorer is Ipswich’s Daryl Murphy with ten. Of the top flight players, Shane Long has eight while Jonathan Walters has four goals.
It doesn’t matter if people consider the American game a lower standard than the UK. At international level, for almost six years of the Trapattoni era, Keane watched international colleagues thump long ball after long ball at his head while opposition centre-halves towered around him. The reality was, as a striker, Keane received better service at LA Galaxy, so which was the higher level?
He doesn’t score against the big teams.
Spain, Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, France, Russia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Turkey, Colombia. Eight of those teams are in the current top 20 of the FIFA rankings. He’s also scored against eleven of the nations qualified for this summer’s World Cup.
He wouldn’t take a drop in wages to move club
The transfer history of Tallaghtfornia’s finest has been well documented. Back in 2011, the then 30-year-old came under increased scrutiny due to the collapse of his move to Birmingham City (the second time in as many weeks). Contrasting statements on the wage demands of the Spurs outcast clouded many people’s judgement of Keane. Some accused him of seeking an increase in his wages of roughly €75,000 a week, and branded him greedy and unworthy as a result. The Irish Independent led with the headline ‘Sorry Robbie, You’re Just Not Worth It.’ But Keane himself came out saying Birmingham had never tabled an offer. Discussion on his wage demands only ever came in papers.
Wolves, Coventry City, Inter Milan, Leeds United, Spurs, Liverpool, Celtic, West Ham, Aston Villa, LA Galaxy. Throughout his career, he risked being labelled a journeyman with the amount of transfers he was involved in but Keane chose to move and keep playing rather than rot on the bench. Since moving to California, his goal-scoring exploits have been well and truly revived.
He’s all ego
During TV interviews, Keane comes across as one of the most laid-back footballers around. Whether poking fun at himself on Sky Sports Goals on Sunday -“It’s always been my dream to be here” – or giving his time to meet fans like Three’s special phone-call or that brilliant Late Late Show appearance, the Irish captain never seems anything other than humble.
Keane notched an incredible 125 Premier League goals during his time in England and was voted club player of the year three times at Tottenham Hotspur, an award he also won at Celtic. He is the fifth highest scoring European in history. On 4th June 2011, Keane scored his 50th and 51st international goals in Skopje, Macedonia, in a Euro 2012 qualifier eclipsing Bobby Charlton to become the highest goalscorer from the UK and Ireland.
The striker is one of just ten footballers to have scored in three successive matches in the World Cup finals sharing the distinction with Pele, Jairzinho, Ronaldo, Eusebio, and Mario Kempes (Soccer-Ireland.com).
Prior to our World Cup qualifier with Germany, the veteran Miroslav Klose hailed the goalscoring record of his Irish counterpart. Keane is behind only Klose as the highest scoring international still playing. The Lazio forward, of course, headed the opener in that memorable encounter in Ibaraki when Keane’s last gasp equaliser really announced his arrival on the world stage. Only Brazil’s Ronaldo managed to beat goalkeeper Oliver Kahn at the same tournament.
LA Galaxy team-mate Landon Donovan hailed the Dubliner as world class while coach Bruce Arena labelled Keane as the best player in MLS. He recently signed a new ‘multi-year’ contract with Galaxy and has begun taking his coaching badges, having declared a desire to one day manage his country.
Having recovered from ankle surgery, the Irish captain says he feels fitter than ever and has hit the ground running in MLS where’s he’s already off the scoring mark.
In a recent interview he told former international colleague Kevin Kilbane:
“In Ireland they rely on me to score goals so I play higher up and play off say Shane Long, getting in behind off the long ball. In Galaxy I come into midfield, get on the ball, pass it, playing as a Number 10 like I did with Spurs which I have never really played with Ireland. We don’t get 80 per cent possession, we play a different game so chances are very limited and when you do get them you have to take them and I won’t get those playing in midfield.”
In the same interview he concluded: “If I was English would I be respected a bit more? Yes, I think so, that’s the truth.”
The reality is that there are few strikers knocking on the door to replace Keane in the Irish set-up. Shane Long is touted as his successor but we are only now starting to see that potential being fulfilled. Keane’s goalscoring in leading his country to a first major finals in ten years, added to his strike-rate last year and at club-level means he still has plenty to offer Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.
A former captain in green Brian O’Driscoll has now hung up his boots and will be rightly be remembered as the greatest centre in Irish rugby history. When the football scribes turn to write the chapter on Irish strikers, one name will be top of the list.
“I am a proud Irishman. As a kid growing up it was always a dream to play for my country. I still have that same hunger and enthusiasm that I had when I first had the opportunity.That will never change for me.” – Robbie Keane
We should be grateful we still have him around.
Main image: Billy Galligan/amanwithhiscamera.com