Reflecting on the storied careers of Irish soccer greats, Green Giants is a feature that will be written by SWAI members, tapping into their knowledge, experience and interaction with some of the best players to pull on a Republic of Ireland jersey.
This latest profile is on striker Robbie Keane.
By Paul Lennon (Irish Daily Star)
The art of goalscoring has always been football’s most precious commodity. For the Republic of Ireland, Robbie Keane is the nation’s gold standard.
Keane’s tally at the end of May, 2014 of 62 goals in 131 appearances for the senior international side places him amongst the elite international marksmen of this and previous eras. While legendary Iranian forward Ali Daei accumulated a career total of 109 goals in 149 matches to remain the all-time leading scorer on FIFA’s list and players from Japan, Kuwait, Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Ivory Coast, Iraq, Honduras and Egypt all figure in the global top 20, Keane’s true impact is best measured when his handiwork is compared to his European and South American peers.
The Dubliner sits joint 15th in the all-time world charts alongside Brazil’s Ronaldo (and Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast) – six behind Germany’s Miroslav Klose and West Germany’s Gerd Muller whose 68 goals in 62 matches is a ratio that is unlikely to be ever matched on this continent. With Keane intent on continuing wearing the green jersey at least for another tournament, there’s no reason to believe that he cannot overhaul ‘Der Bomber’ and chase Hungary’s Sandor Koscis on 75 and Pele’s 77 goals, although Ferenc Puskas’s 84 goals from his 85 games for Hungary is probably beyond his range.
Finding the net has always come easy to the man from Tallaght in Dublin as does recovering from the disappointment of failing to convert a chance or enduring an off day for club or country. That mental inner-strength has proven to be the bedrock upon which he has built a hugely successful career with Wolves, Coventry City, Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur, Celtic and Los Angeles Galaxy that has more than offset the difficult short stints at Inter Milan, Liverpool and West Ham United.
From his earliest days as a teenage player with Fettercairn and Crumlin United in the Dublin and District Schoolboys League, Keane’s knack of scoring made him that bit special with his ‘cheeky chappy’ personality later harnessed by Tottenham and Ireland, who both appointed him captain.
After joining Wolves from Crumlin in the summer of 1996, the 17-year-old Keane was amongst six senior debutants for Ireland against the Czech Republic in the sleepy town of Olomouc in March, 1998 as manager Mick McCarthy began to rebuild his side. The teenager and fellow new face Damien Duff – a year older than Keane - would quickly adapt to life at the highest level. When Argentina and Gabriel Batistuta arrived at Lansdowne Road a month later for a glamour friendly, ‘Batigoal’ duly delivered a goal but it was the jinking, impish Keane who won the hearts of the 38,500 attendance with a display that saw him rattle the visitors’ crossbar with a fierce drive.
Keane and Duff were soon bedded into McCarthy’s team and they played vital roles in the team’s route to the 2002 World Cup finals as the first-choice strike force. A memorable late equaliser by Keane against Germany in the second group match in Ibaraki ignited Ireland’s campaign with the No 10 then netting in the subsequent 3-0 victory against Saudi Arabia and in the agonising penalty shoot-out defeat by Spain in the last-16 clash.
Those goals against Germany and Spain, previous efforts against Yugoslavia and Holland and subsequent goals against Italy, France and Russia dispelled the erroneous claim that he does not score against the big teams – a notion that’s also undermined by the obvious fact that teams of the calibre of Ireland only play the major countries on a limited frequency.
Apart from Keane’s scoring exploits, the respect that he commands in the dressing room and on the training pitch prompted Steve Staunton to appoint him team skipper when the former Ireland defender took charge of the side in early 2006. Keane was only 25 and, unlike most of his predecessors, was not drawn from the ranks of defence or midfield but he was already fulfilling the role at White Hart Lane as vice-captain to Ledley King who found himself constantly sidelined with injury.
Significantly, Giovanni Trapattoni opted to retain Keane as his on-pitch representative when he succeeded Staunton in the spring of 2008 with the player responding with a series of top-class performances in the two campaigns Euro that followed. He also led the team out during their three matches at Euro 2012, where Ireland only scored once and Keane was starved of service in the defeats to Croatia, Spain and Italy.
And unless new Ireland supremo Martin O’Neill calls time on Keane’s glittering international career in the coming months, the odds are on him continuing in the role as the nation bids to qualify for Euro 2016.