Sport Soccer

Friday 23 February 2018

We need change from the bottom up – Keane

Giovanni Trapattoni listens to Robbie Keane during yesterday's press conference in Vienna
Giovanni Trapattoni listens to Robbie Keane during yesterday's press conference in Vienna
David Kelly

David Kelly

Robbie Keane enters the bowels of the Ernst Happel Stadium with arms folded, head bowed.

He hardly betrays a figure who seems in pugilistic mood.

Yet less than 15 minutes later, he is in fighting form, railing against anyone deigning to delude themselves that Ireland could possibly harbour the conceit that they could play football without threatening bird life.

If anything indicated an ambition to prolong his involvement with his country in some coaching capacity or other, then this was it.

It remains to be seen whether he will back up his words with deeds whenever he finally decides to hang up his free-scoring boots.

This is not the first time Keane has attacked the dearth of effective coaching structures in this country; before Ireland played Sweden in Stockholm he criticised the FAI's reluctance to promote indigenous coaching voices.

Yesterday's rant was more pointed.

At once, he damned the lack of ambition that has hindered Irish international football more often than not for a generation and hinted at dark days to come should there not be a radical overhaul in how the game is coached here.

The irony here, of course, is that Keane, as captain of his country for seven years, has been utterly complicit in slavishly adhering to a straitjacket that many strongly feel suffocates his team.

And so he urges us to discard the fleeting memories of Paris, under both Trapattoni and Brian Kerr, to erase the attempts of Mick McCarthy to develop a passing game with limited resources.

They, you must understand, were merely aberrations, momentary lapses of reason from the unbending path of stunted progress where creativity is frowned upon and freedom of expression is roundly disabused.


Ireland should never have hoped to expect – nor should they for some time yet – an approach that allows players of Premier League standard even the slightest leeway to commit themselves to anything but the most ascetic of courses.

"We talk about Plan A and Plan B and crap like that," Keane froths. "But Ireland has never had a Plan B before. We've always had a Plan A, it's as simple as that. Since I came into the squad, we've always played exactly the same way.

"We don't have the personnel like Spain to get the ball down and have 80pc of the ball to get possession against other teams. We're just not that team. We know our strengths and we stick to it.

"Unless it changes from grassroots... but it's not going to change for a good few years. They keep talking in England about trying to change things and make the national team much better. We need to do that as well.

"But is it going to change straight away? It hasn't changed from the first minute I walked in that door. I don't think it's going to change for a while."

A brief assessment of a domestic game that is riven by divisions, not to mention an international structure where even the U-21 side plays a different tactical system to the senior side, adds some amount of weight to the kernel of Keane's point.

But Keane's defence of Ireland's hidebound play still strikes one as overly self-righteous; a cloying loyalty to an outmoded managerial approach which will be defended to the ultimate degree.

Until, that is, the players, as players nearly always do, decide to wash their hands of the matter.

"Whatever happens beyond these few games is certainly out of my hands and the players' hands," he says, hinting that there will be no 'Late Late Show' defence of Trapattoni to mirror his ill-judged defiance when Steve Staunton got the bullet.

"As professionals, we have to stand up and be professional in the job that we do and give as much as we can to that green jersey and all the fans watching back home.

"All you can do is your best to try to make people happy or do your best for the team. If that's not good enough, then other people have to look at it.

"We have to play to the manager, he picks the team and whatever he feels is the best team to get the result. Whether that's picking Wesley (Hoolahan) or whoever, it's up to him."

The best way Keane can contribute on the field is scoring goals; even if the irony often escapes him that the manner in which his team plays often hampers that aim.

"It's not about my strengths, it's about the team's strengths. It's not about me," he says.

"My thing is trying to get opportunities and scoring goals.

"More times than not, I'll score if I get opportunities. You want to get as many as you can, it doesn't always happen and last Friday was a case in point."

And with that Keane deliver his parting shot.

"We started together and we'll finish together," he says.

We will know soon enough whether this is a defiant last stand or, merely, a melancholic afterthought.

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