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Sunday 4 December 2016

Keane says quit threat was lost in translation

David Kelly - Chief Sports Analysis Writer

Published 26/03/2011 | 05:00

Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane during a press conference ahead of their EURO2012 Championship Qualifier match against Macedonia. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane during a press conference ahead of their EURO2012 Championship Qualifier match against Macedonia. Photo: Sportsfile

It's a mental image that caused the room to shudder with rueful laughter. A shocking revelation from the man who will this evening become Ireland's most capped international captain.

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Professional footballers are supposed to share baths with teenage twins from Telford... but sharing a bath with Frank Bruno?

Robbie Keane elaborates. "It was an ice chamber," he becalms the audience.

"It was a bit bizarre. Two sessions a day. Nine minutes. Four minutes in. Back out for a cycle. Back in. You don't want to be doing it any longer, trust me."

Especially when your fellow occupant begins warbling. It seems the Hammers-loving ex-World Champion was fond of belting out the mournful 'Danny Boy' while his club's newest recruit shivered in teeth-shattering silence.

Many Irish supporters felt that Keane was hinting at a similarly valedictory message when icily declaring in January that his international future was dependent on retaining an automatic berth in Giovanni Trapattoni's starting XI.

They heard it on their wireless sets, too, so there was little to be misconstrued at the captain's strop. Or was there?

message

In an era where the message is king, it constantly amuses how often real meaning takes a hike.

Yesterday, Keane back-tracked with astonishing adroitness, claiming that the words committed to print and radio were alien to reality.

He has no intention of retiring. But he will rethink after this campaign. But he wants to play as long as he can. But he doesn't want to think three or four years ahead. Clear?

He admits he's not match-fit. He would have understood if Trapattoni had decided not to pick him for this evening's assignment. And if he was fit, he would understand if younger, fresher faces supplanted him.

But he wouldn't be hanging around like a bad smell, warming the bench, waiting for another chance to impress. No, sir. Capiche?

All the while Trapattoni received the eager translations of his interpreter as Keane spoke, stamping out another of the needless forest fires that have dogged this campaign -- admittedly, Keane was more culpable in this instance.

For Trapattoni's message concerning Keane's inactivity was as relevant in January as it is now; the player's unfortunate injury placing his dispensability for Ireland under a tense spotlight.

Ironically, his body's eager response to the ice baths -- or perhaps the urgency to escape Bruno's less than lugubrious lungs -- delivered his manager from a dilemma that he would have found rather difficult to sidestep.

Keane's nominal cameo since returning from his calf trouble two weeks ahead of schedule has allowed Trapattoni to pick his captain with an unblemished conscience; the pair's purported verbal joust consigned to the dusty files marked 'quotes taken out of context'.

Keane was always careful to defer to the Italian yesterday. Asked was he lucky to get picked despite admitting his lack of match fitness, he deferred to the manager's prerogative. "You'll have to ask the manager," came his reply.

The manager had shown faith in him. But if the manager decided in the future that he preferred a leaner, meaner fighting machine, then he would have no hesitation in accepting the manager's decision.

But we were left in no doubt that he would do his accepting from a couch in London and not on a subs' bench in Dublin or wherever.

So, in essence, Keane's message was simple and direct, his breezy attitude and snappy answering a verbal equivalent of a zesty five-a-side brimful of snappy tackles and neat first touches.

"I've said to you on numerous occasions that I'll be happy enough if someone young took my place," he reiterates. "I'd be happy enough to walk away. I've had a tremendous career. I'm sure you'll agree that I've said that. So whether it was picked up completely wrong, I'm not sure."

Rather than 'pick me or I'll walk', perhaps it should have been 'I'll walk when I'm not picked'; subtleties are often lost in modern football and particularly when performers are more comfortable talking on the pitch, rather than off it.

What is certain is that Keane's rare slide into injury, heaped upon a season of frustration which belatedly witnessed his slow exit from White Hart Lane into a formidable relegation battle at West Ham, has reacquainted him with living in the moment.

Which is why such hypothetical subjects such as retirement and selection can often provoke impetuous reactions from a footballer in Keane's position.

"I'll get through this campaign first and see how it goes," he said, when asked would he prolong his international career. "I don't want to plan too far ahead."

He has told us before that another qualification failure would terminate his time in green. Well, we seem to remember he did anyhow.

But then perhaps those remarks were taken out of context as well. Maintaining his remarkable scoring rate this evening would help smooth the creases of all this loose talk.

As his old mucker Frank might say, "Know what I mean, Robbie?"

Irish Independent

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