Keane can be Ireland's Totti
IRELAND manager Giovanni Trapattoni wants Robbie Keane to fill the role perfected by Italy's 'Golden Boy' Francesco Totti -- starting tonight against the Czech Republic.
Trapattoni, however wonderfully obscure and entertaining he may be in his meandering English, has a razor sharp football mind, and is already preparing his tactics for the Euro 2012 clashes against Croatia, Spain and Italy next June.
A key part of those plans involves his skipper playing slightly closer to midfield as a withdrawn striker and that's no problem for Keane.
"At club level over the years I've always played in that role," said Keane. "That is my best position to be honest -- a sort of No 10 if you like, playing between the striker and the midfield.
"It's a little bit different from what I am used to with Ireland. I've normally played a bit higher up the pitch, chasing flick-ons, which has in fairness been very successful for me over the years."
Tonight's match will have a 'Back to the Future' feel for the Dubliner, as he won his first full cap against the Czech Republic under Mick McCarthy's management in Olomouc on March 25, 1998.
At that stage, Keane was already a first team regular at Wolves, where he made his League debut at the start of the 1997-98 season aged 17 and went on to finish the campaign as a member of Brian Kerr's squad which won the European U-18 Championship.
Quite a year, but there was much more to follow, including multi-million pound transfers to Coventry City, Inter Milan, Leeds United, Spurs, Liverpool, Spurs again, and LA Galaxy.
Keane has also had loan spells at Celtic, West Ham, and Aston Villa.
Harking back to his first senior cap, Ireland lost 2-1 to the Czechs, but a fascinating career in international football was launched in Olomouc.
Who would have guessed that night that the Tallaght native would be here 14 years later starring in his own version of 'Tallafornia' as a player with LA Galaxy in the Sunshine State and looking forward eagerly to Euro 2012.
The Irish skipper looked fit and fresh yesterday as he prepared to return to America for the start of their season after his loan spell at Aston Villa.
Villa manager Alex McLeish, his team-mates and the fans all took to Keane and McLeish indicated that he'd like to bring the Dubliner back to the club in the summer.
Keane was non-committal on that idea, confining himself to reminding everyone he is still contracted to LA Galaxy. He did, however, reflect with satisfaction on his time with the Birmingham club.
"Keeping fit, getting games under my belt -- it couldn't have worked out better for me. That's what I wanted," he said.
"LA Galaxy are travelling to different places. They're in Arizona at the moment, so I thought it would be more beneficial for me to stay in one place rather than be travelling all over the place and doing a pre-season that I already have behind me three months ago.
"So, it worked out well in that respect. Aston Villa's a great club. I certainly enjoyed my time there and I feel it worked out well for both of us," he added.
Trapattoni will hope that Keane avoids injury between now and June and, at 31 years of age, it's no harm that the Dubliner has enjoyed a mid-season break as well as keeping himself active in the Premier League.
"I hope it will be an advantage come the finals. You never know in football. You try to keep yourself fit and try not to get too many injuries between now and the summer. I've had time off and Aiden (McGeady) has had time off as well.
Keane is at a great stage in his career. As Trapattoni's skipper, he brings an enhanced level of maturity and experience to the team.
Time is no longer on his side but his passion for football has survived the cynicism that is so often evident in the pro game.
"As you get older and wiser you understand the game and read it a bit better than you would have maybe five or six years ago," he said.
"But I'm like any player -- you want to play every week if you can and keep yourself fit.
"I've said loads of times before that I'm not one of these players that likes to sit on the bench and is happy to pick up my money.
"I want to earn my money and I want to play every week.
"I still love waking up on a Saturday morning and getting myself ready for a game."
Keane has won a whopping 114 caps, hitting the hit the net 53 times. He'll be hoping to add to that tally come the summer.