Saturday 24 February 2018

Vincent Hogan: King Robbie will hold court in league without majesty

Robbie Keane's late equaliser in the Ibaraki Stadium against Germany is a world away from his move to the SPL
Robbie Keane's late equaliser in the Ibaraki Stadium against Germany is a world away from his move to the SPL
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

You could identify something of a sneer in much of the coverage of Robbie Keane's move to Celtic last week. As the crow flies, Glasgow's East-end is a little less than 400 miles from North London but, for Keane, it must have felt like he was all but swapping galaxies.

Robbie is on a reputed £68,000 a week to score goals against the likes of Hamilton and Falkirk. Short of having to do so blindfolded and wearing ankle-chains, this shouldn't unduly stretch him.

Actually, unleashing Keane on your average SPL defence seems a bit like hiring Max Clifford to explain a parking ticket.

Hence the antagonism. There is the sense that Robbie, at 29, has taken the easy option. That, except for the frenzied turbulence of the occasional Old Firm collision, his professional life is about to become comfortable and unchallenging.

We haven't read any compelling explanation from Keane himself -- other than that lifelong affection for Celtic that every Catholic son of Ireland purportedly takes from the cradle -- for his decision to go north. Nor will we. Interviews have never been Robbie's thing and, short of the formulaic press conference, he tends to keep his counsel.

Robbie generally doesn't do one-to-ones. The few he has endured have tended to be about as enlightening as a loud, extended yawn.


You might see this as little more than a damning measure of the journalist asking the questions. And you might be right.

But there is the sense that a salivating Jeremy Paxman couldn't draw a colourful thought from the Irish captain.

There were, apparently, a number of English Premier League clubs vying for his services, particularly Wolves and Sunderland, each of which would have offered the added attraction of reuniting him with old Irish friends.

No one doubts Robbie has a fondness for Celtic (just as he had for Liverpool). And the club's stadium and support-base certainly gives it a grander facade than that of lower and mid-table English Premier League sides. But did part of him not yearn to prove a point to Harry Redknapp or Rafa Benitez?

A point that no end of goals in Scotland could ever possibly articulate?

We will never know because, with Robbie, the media thing has always been dealt with in a polite, yet studiously ambivalent way. Maybe it's an inherent shyness, but he pretty much speaks in predictive text. It's like he's parked outside on a double-yellow, the engine running.

He is 12 years a senior international player, yet his relationship with the Irish media remains long-distance and superficial. You couldn't say it's hostile, but it's not exactly warm either. If anything, it's a kind of emotional no-man's land.

I don't know of a single journalist privileged with his phone number. That's his choice and, absolutely, his right, of course. Robbie prefers the buffer (usually road-block) of an agent to deal with media requests.

Yet, this creates a vacuum too. It imparts a resolute formality to his time on international duty. He reveals nothing beyond the party line. The group cliche. All of which makes him agreeable, but remote. Like a smile from a passing bus.

I sometimes think that his World Cup goal in Ibaraki should have forever more bequeathed him virtual sainthood in this country. Alert as a hare, he snared the Germans deep in injury-time when, traditionally, they were harder to penetrate than Fort Knox. In that one moment, he electrified a whole nation and has, since, averaged a goal every other game for Ireland, obliterating Niall Quinn's old record.

Yet, where is the affection? The appreciation?

On Newstalk last Wednesday morning, Ivan Yates was clearly being provocative with a withering dismissal of Keane's Celtic debut at Kilmarnock. The former politician dismissed Robbie as "overrated" and, sure enough, a blizzard of text messages came howling in.

Yet, by all accounts, the responses were evenly split. Half denouncing Yates; half taking the opportunity to toss tomatoes at Celtic's new number seven.

In these pages last Friday, James Lawton took a more cerebral tone, yet -- essentially -- alighted at the same bus stop as Yates. Robbie's story, he believed, was one of just flattering to deceive.

You sense that his affection for Celtic now is a bit like a middle-aged romantic's love of Butlins. The beauty is in the memory.

Glasgow houses many things today, but football romance is not among them. The Old Firm rivalry festers away as a kind of toxic family feud, sad and irrelevant to the outside world.

Just now, Rangers -- a club run by banks and without a single pound spent in the last three transfer windows -- are short odds to win a domestic treble. This tells us less about them than it does about the League they lead by 10 points.

But it's the League that Robbie now adorns, like an exotic wedding cake in a bread shop window.

He will score goals in Scotland, plenty of them. But will they advance him a solitary inch in his professional life?

Such a question may antagonise those who worship at a place called 'Paradise'. But their kingdom is as real as Camelot today. And Robbie is King Arthur.

Irish Independent

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