An ode to Robbie Keane

In 1998 I was a seven year old boy with an obsession for all things related to football and our national team. I was this kid basically. Relics from that time are photos of me taken on the steps of the FAI’s Merrion Square office and letters written to them asking for free stuff (a signed Mick McCarthy photo was the unexpected but welcome response). My nascent enthusiasm coincided with the arrival of one Robbie Keane.

I can clearly remember his exploits with the victorious U-18 side in Cyprus. A pretty massive achievement considering the state of our underage football these days. I remember following the games on Teletext, punching 232 into the remote over and over again. That team, led by Brian Kerr, featured many future stalwarts of the national team such as Duff and Dunne but Keane was the star. I had their poster on my wardrobe for many years after. He made his debut in a friendly versus Argentina that same year, the first of 145 caps.

Keane resurfaces in my memories during his time at Leeds, the Hewlett Packard shirt stands out through the fog of time as does David O’Leary. He had previously gotten his Premier League career started at Coventry. I don’t think I had really understood the Inter Milan adventure when it happened and by all accounts he was a bit unlucky there. But still, its a sign of just how high his stock was at the beginning of the millenium. Leeds began to implode and Keane left after the 2002 World Cup.

That goal against Germany will be repeated thousands of times over the next few days. I remember watching it in primary school, such was the excitement after it went in that all the kids were let out to the yard to sprint off the adrenaline rush.

It’s very important not to underestimate just how good he was at Tottenham. He finished off his first stint there with two 20+ goal seasons. When will an Irishman do that again? We almost took it for granted. None of our current strikers will even come close. Long, for example, is a good player but he doesn’t compare with Keane in terms of talent. The goals kept coming at international level and I’m sure most people have heard of the record: more goals for his country than Zlatan, Rooney, Ronaldo or Messi.

The Liverpool thing didn’t work out but he followed it up with more goals for Tottenham and Celtic before heading to the USA to make proverbial hay in the MLS. He even managed to squeeze in some more Premier League goals with Aston Villa and West Ham leaving him at number 13 on the all time Premier League goal scorers list.

His time in the US has perhaps lessened the perception of him in Ireland over the past few years, the memories of his exploits fading a bit in the minds of some. He still made countless trips over to don the green shirt (have a look at Brian Kerr’s column for some examples of his commitment) and his status in the US has made him into a great representative for our country. I value this more and more as we now seem to live in the age of morons with dragon tattoos.

Keane has donned the Irish jersey for 18 years. A period that will come to an end this week in the Aviva. If I was in Ireland I would snap up a ticket. For me he has to go down as one of our all time greats and the fans should recognise this with a big turnout for the match. His international record is phenomenally good if you consider the fortunes of our national side. It is so difficult to do well in international football. The “goals scored against minnows” argument doesn’t hold any ground for me. International football is international football, you have to be really talented to do well.

And that sums it up really. Robbie Keane is and always has been really really good at football. We should all be thankful for that.