What's the problem with Robbie Keane? Or, to be more precise, what's our problem with Robbie Keane?
Take last week's story that Keane had threatened to retire from international soccer if Giovanni Trappatoni dropped him from the Irish team. Here's what the man said: "I have not really worried or thought about my position with Ireland. It is all about now and I've said before if I didn't play for Ireland and someone came in, I have always said I would walk away."
You could perhaps construe this quote as being an implied threat by Keane to quit if he's dropped. And if that's so, it's a disappointing statement from a player who has always spoken about how much the green jersey means to him. But you could also look at it as an acknowledgement from the player that when he's no longer good enough to command a place with Ireland, he'll know it's time to pack it in. The statement isn't completely transparent, you can read it one way or another.
Ireland's record goalscorer surely deserves the benefit of the doubt. But the problem is that people aren't inclined to give Robbie Keane the benefit of the doubt. He seems to get on a lot of wicks and you get the impression that quite a few fans out there would be happy to see their erstwhile hero take a fall.
I'm at a loss as to why this is. And I'm at a loss as to where the idea that Robbie Keane isn't worth his place on the Irish team anymore came from. His form in the last couple of games was pretty dire but he was arguably our outstanding player during the World Cup qualifying campaign. And while Shane Long's current run with Reading is undeniably impressive, the fact remains that the 13 goals in 33 games he has scored this season came in the Championship. Until Long is reproducing a similar scoring rate in the top flight talk of his ousting Keane is premature. After all, West Ham were rumoured to be interested in Long to help their fight against relegation but in the end they went for Keane. They knew that right now the older player is the best bet.
There seems to be a reluctance to give Keane credit for his considerable achievements. His 122 Premier League goals put him 11th on the all-time list and only Michael Owen and Frank Lampard of current players have more. Should Kevin Doyle reach a ton of goals in the top flight -- he's currently on 30 after three and a half seasons -- it would be a tremendous achievement for the Wexford man. Yet the insinuations that Keane has something left to prove continue to abound.
The contrast between Doyle's bustling all-action style and Keane's more instinctive opportunistic way of approaching the striker's role means that the former is increasingly invoked to deprecate the latter. Yet compare Keane's 45 goals in 104 games for Ireland and Doyle's nine goals from 40 and it seems odd that the Dubliner is the one who's under pressure. His best days may be behind him but Keane scored six goals to Doyle's two in the World Cup qualifying campaign. There's nothing wrong with Doyle's performances for Ireland. But there's even less wrong with Keane's.
I wonder if it's a question of style. Keane, the streetwise night-clubbing Dub, the bundle of confidence with the beautiful model wife and the unfortunate knack of adding fuel to fire by thoughtless media utterances, perhaps seems less like the national idea of a sporting hero than Doyle, the plain-spoken, modest countryman who reminds everyone of a GAA player, or for that matter, Long who was a GAA player. Hence they get the praise and Robbie gets the stick.
It might be unfair. But nobody's ever worried about being unfair to Robbie Keane.
Sunday Indo Sport