Sunday 19 November 2017

Steven Reid: Behind Robbie the joker there's a fierce competitor with an insatiable hunger to score goals

Robbie Keane with Steven Reid in 2008
Robbie Keane with Steven Reid in 2008

ROBBIE Keane is a year older than me, but I've never viewed him in those terms. When I came into the squad first, he had the aura of a senior player, the confidence of a guy who'd been around the place for years.

He was a breath of fresh air, a fella who would put an arm around a newcomer like me and make it really easy to settle into the squad.

The dressing-room needed his infectious enthusiasm and I gather that the older lads took to him straight away.

Robbie is a joker, he's got a real sense of humour and on our nights out, he'd always be at the centre of the action, invariably popping up when someone produced a guitar and the sing-song got going. He'd be first up, belting out his old favourite 'Father and Son', although I think he was always trying to imitate the Boyzone version rather than the Cat Stevens original.

He loves Boyzone, a bit of Westlife too, and he probably had the best voice in the squad until Shane Long came along. One of my abiding memories from the 2002 World Cup is a few of the lads going up on stage and forming a makeshift band. Alan Kelly banging away on the drums, Gary Kelly was there as well, and Robbie was centre stage, with the microphone in hand, exactly where he's happiest.

But as much as Robbie knows how to enjoy himself, he's a different animal once he sets foot on the training pitch. He always means business.

Behind that mucking-about exterior, there's a fierce competitor, a guy whose desire to score goals in training is the same as in matches. All the top strikers have that streak, that little bit of selfishness perhaps, but Robbie always had the presence of mind to pass to someone who was in a better position.

I heard Alan Kelly talking the other day about what Robbie brings to training, the positive impact he has on those around him and I can relate to that.

When I came into the senior squad and started working with an established name like Robbie, who was already a huge figure in the game, I always found myself trying to impress him in training. Roy Keane was the same. You want these lads to go back to their clubs and tell other people what a good player you are.

So that's what happens; their very presence lifts the quality and intensity.

It's why there's a huge value to Robbie sticking around as long as possible. I don't know if this will be his last campaign; part of me thinks it might be, but then you never know.

I suspected that the senior lads – Robbie, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Damien Duff – might leave together after the Euros but that didn't prove to be the case.

You could see against Georgia that Robbie had the same desire, so maybe there's plenty left in the tank, even though he's been on the go for what seems like forever.

He's had to shoulder serious responsibility since his teens and you have to be a strong character to cope with that. I can't believe when people quibble with his goalscoring record, claiming that a lot of his 56 goals came against the 'lesser' nations. Considering he's scored for Ireland in so many big games, it's ridiculous, and all I will say is that if it's so easy to rack up goals against those teams, then why haven't more people reached his figure?

His stats stack up with a lot of top players from around the world at international level and when you take into consideration how often we are underdogs, and the fact we've only qualified for two major championships during his time, his record is unbelievably good. He's always had that knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time and making it look easy. Take his strikes against Georgia, for example.

Even though he is a midfielder, Tim Cahill has the same habit, a skill that the great players have and Robbie certainly falls into that category.

We'll miss him when he's gone.

Irish Independent

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