Robbie Keane: The striker Republic of Ireland could not do without
Published 24/08/2016 | 20:01
It is a question which has shifted both in emphasis and urgency in recent years.
Where once Republic of Ireland fans asked, "What would we do without Robbie Keane?", they are now asking, "What are we going to do without Robbie Keane?".
The 36-year-old LA Galaxy striker finally bowed to the inevitable on Wednesday when he announced his retirement from international football 18 years after first pulling on the green shirt for his senior debut.
In the intervening years, he has worn the same badge over his heart on a further 144 occasions and scored 67 goals, more than any compatriot in both cases.
Where the former figure is not particularly remarkable in these days of international calendars packed with friendly fixtures, the latter is.
Keane was the first man from Great Britain or Ireland to score 50 goals for his country - something neither England greats Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker could manage in their distinguished careers - and the fact that his nearest Irish rival Niall Quinn managed just 21 is a measure of the impact he has made on the international stage.
Quinn, who nursed the young striker through his early days in the national team, suspected at an early stage that his record would be obliterated, but was more than happy at the prospect.
He said as Keane approached his total back in 2004: "I hope he doubles my record and it will be great for Irish football if he gets to 40 goals, and I mean that genuinely."
Quinn's estimate may have seemed outlandish at the time, but it proved to be significantly shy as the boy from Tallaght took up his mantle and carried it to unprecedented heights.
Pace, awareness, an uncanny knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time and a lethal instinct in front of goal marked Keane out as a genuine talent, and a quick glimpse at his list of clubs is evidence of the extent to which his talent has been coveted by a succession of managers.
Having played his part in Ireland Under-18s' European Championship triumph in 1998, it took him just five appearances for the senior team to score his first goal, one of two he claimed against Malta in October the same year.
From then on, the total grew steadily, against major European nations such as Holland, Germany, and Italy, and on big occasions in World Cup play-off games against Iran and France and the goal which announced him as a prodigious talent on the world stage, his equaliser against the Germans in Ibraki in 2002.
His growing influence in the dressing room saw him appointed captain by Steve Staunton in 2006, and he has worn the armband, when fit, ever since with a pride which has simply grown over the years.
It has not all been plain-sailing for Keane - even at the height of his powers, there were those who maintained, somewhat obtusely, that all he did was score goals, a baffling criticism given that he collected them in such quantities, and as time started to take its toll, he was denounced in some quarters as a flat-track bully.
But while in recent seasons his successes have come mainly against international football's minnows, his influence has grown within the dressing room.
It has been noticeable that he his comments to the media have grown increasingly statesman-like as the time he has spent on the pitch has decreased - he managed only two appearances as a substitute at this summer's Euro 2016 finals having struggling with injury in the run-up to the tournament - and he has made no secret of his desire to join the Ireland coaching staff one day.
However, he has never lost faith in his ability to score goals at the highest level.
Speaking ahead of the Euros opener against Sweden in June, he said: "There are certainly goals left in me, there's no question about that. I've been doing it since I was 17 years of age and I've continued to do it and I have been consistent in doing that, so there's no question about that."
In the weeks since, Keane has reassessed and decided after all that the time is right to follow fellow veteran Shay Given into retirement, in the process leaving Republic boss Martin O'Neill having to find the answer to THAT question.