Friday 15 December 2017

James Lawton: Robbie Keane proved himself to be the ultimate street-fighter

Keane made the most of his talent - and the numbers prove it

Robbie Keane made the most of his talent – and the numbers prove it Picture: Sportsfile
Robbie Keane made the most of his talent – and the numbers prove it Picture: Sportsfile
James Lawton

James Lawton

Those who insist that statistics are often the camouflage of damned lies would surely never have had Robbie Keane in mind. His tell an unimpeachable story of extraordinary dedication to the unlikely dream he fostered with a football at his feet on the not notably romantic streets of his native Tallaght.

It means that his impending departure from the international football at the age of 36 could hardly be further away from an act of abdication.

The truth, which so many who have been close to him in the game were so quick to point out, is that his membership among the elite of football was long ago established by the sheer force of his competitive instinct.

That he lasted so long in the service of his country, and almost certainly created an untouchable scoring record, was simply the prolonged assertion of a rare instinct to go, at every opportunity, to the very limits of his talent.

There have of course been more luminous ones spread across the world game, and some have worn his beloved green shirt of the Republic, but then no-one has surpassed him in his drive to exploit every single fibre of his physical gifts.

In his long journey through the top levels of the club game - one marred in its extraordinary momentum only by a brief misadventure with Internazionale of Milan and a nerve-jarring transfer squabble involving Tottenham and Liverpool which left him returning to London frustrated in his ambition to become part of the folklore of Anfield - he was never short of testimonial from men who know the value of superior commitment.

Glenn Hoddle, the Tottenham midfielder still revered at White Hart Lane, was his manager during his first stint there and he said, "The more you get to know Robbie Keane, the more you realise what an incredibly committed nature he has. He is the kind of footballer who affects everyone around him.

"You see his effort, you see his desire, and you would have to be a stone not to be impressed and touched."

Martin O'Neill, of a more recent intimate professional relationship, was saying very much the same in so many words in the wake of yesterday's announcement that Keane would end his international career after next week's friendly with Oman.

O'Neill, like Keane himself, had recognised clearly enough that the player's licence to play at the highest level had reached an advanced state of review but as long as he performed with such prodigious consistency for his American club LA Galaxy, and kept himself fit, he was a psychological resource that could not be easily abandoned.

Says O'Neill: "Robbie Keane leaves a huge place to be filled in the way our team sees itself - and its possibilities. I doubt that his scoring record (67 goals in 145 appearances if anyone had forgotten) will ever be surpassed. The same goes for his commitment to his country, his passion for the team."


Emphasising the extent to which Keane has drawn on every ounce of his ability is a remarkable possibility offered by the Oman game.

Imagine Keane scores again as he makes his Last Hurrah - a challenge unlikely to intimidate a battler from Tallaght - and then consider the consequence. It would carry him alongside the great German goalscorer Gerd Muller, the fabled Der Bomber, a shared fourth place behind such scoring marvels as Hungarian legends Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis and another great German predator, Miroslav Klose.

As Keane says, he could not have dreamed of entering such a pantheon as he scuffled on the unremitting streets of his home town, and how did he manage it? Because he wanted it so much more than so many of his peers. In that sense he has been an ultimate street fighter, someone who has never asked the question why, only why not?

Why not harbour every chance you have been given? Why not fight with every resource to score the kind of goals that pegged back the powerhouse German runners-up in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and in the Stade de France threatened to carry his team to the 2010 World Cup finals in South African before Thierry Henry's act of perfidy.

Henry had, of course, a sublimely beautiful talent but it is one which will always carry the ignominy of that day.

Robbie Keane has, of course, no need of a backward glance. All that he did was placed before the eyes of the football world.

Now, he can retire from the international with the serenity of a warrior who knows that did everything he could. He has nothing more to do to augment the meaning of his name.

Still, a goal against Oman would be rather nice.

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