Thursday 29 June 2017

Stephen Hunt: Subs bench the only place for Robbie Keane in Ireland's most effective system

He still has goals in him but offers so little else that bench is only option, says Stephen Hunt

'The problem for Robbie Keane is that I don't think he can score in the system Ireland played last weekend and I think it's Ireland's most effective system.' Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
'The problem for Robbie Keane is that I don't think he can score in the system Ireland played last weekend and I think it's Ireland's most effective system.' Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

There are times when it can get pretty frustrating being on the field with Robbie Keane. I've sometimes played a pass to Robbie and the next thing his arms are thrown up in frustration, with the whole crowd believing that the ball didn't meet the required standard.

I'd often stand there and think 'why don't you just run after it, Robbie?'.

But then he'd take the chance that got us back in the game or gave us a lead and everything would be forgotten. Goals do that, they change the subject of every conversation.

Managers know that too. They don't care that other players may be running around getting pissed off at a player who is doing next to nothing if the player in question can get the goal that saves his job. Managers will take their chances with a player who will take his.

Look at Cristiano Ronaldo. These days he's only interested in scoring goals, but it would be lunacy to leave him out because you wanted somebody who would work the channels a bit more. For a long time, it was a similar situation for Ireland and Robbie.

The problem for Robbie is that I don't think he can score in the system Ireland played last weekend and I think it's Ireland's most effective system. Things changed against Poland when Jonathan Walters moved up front because then there was a presence there and maybe that can help Robbie, although last week it didn't.

In fact, it just highlighted how anonymous he was. Robbie, instead, gave it the works. He was appealing for everything and as his contribution to general play reduced, he became more and more animated.

I don't think it concealed the problem from anyone. In the system Ireland were playing, they needed a presence up front and if Robbie was ever able to provide that - and I'm not sure he was - he can't do it now.

Yet you can't forget about Robbie Keane because he still has goals in him. I think he would have been better off coming on for the last 20 minutes against Poland and maybe he would have nicked a goal earlier and given us a real chance to go and win the game.

There were problems other than Robbie in the first half. The central midfielders weren't getting on the ball and that had a ripple effect. The centre-backs want the midfielders to show but it didn't look like it was happening so instead they were knocking it long, and again we didn't have the man up front to chase those kind of balls.

Wes Hoolahan came deeper and deeper to get the ball and he did make an impression, especially as the game went on, but he could have been helped by the other players in midfield.

There's not much you can do if the central midfielders aren't getting on the ball. Every team needs that area of the field to be working. As a wide man, there's not much you can do: if they can't get on the ball, you don't have the ball and that means the wide men spend more time chasing back, covering and helping the full-backs. In those situations, when you do get on the ball, you're too tired to use it well so it gets given away and you get back on the treadmill.

In the second half, there were signs that we could use it a bit better but I think Shane Long would have brought more to the team in the system we used.

He is our quickest player and he works hard. I've said before that I've noticed how his runs have improved since he went to Southampton and when we needed a front man to stretch the defence and give our midfield, particularly Hoolahan, room to play, Long would have been ideal.

I think we saw in the last 45 minutes how our play might vary under Martin O'Neill. Trap was all-out, there was no subtlety, while the Germans are the most pragmatic. They know when to hit it long and they know when to go short. There's nobody like them for that variety.

Under O'Neill, I think Ireland will vary it. But whatever they do, they need a front man who is suited to the system. It might be sacrilege to say it, but goals are not enough. Robbie Keane needs to provide them from the bench and Ireland need to look to a future which could yet be promising.

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