Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane's legacy will live on for years as striker announces retirement

By Daniel McDonnell

It was February 2008 when the possibility of international retirement was floated to Robbie Keane.

The protracted hunt for a new boss after the departure of Steve Staunton was testing patience levels.

For their own reasons, Steve Finnan, Stephen Carr and Andy O'Brien had opted to call it quits.

Keane was just 27, but his Irish career was already a decade old. The young captain had played 78 times, scoring 32 goals.

Knowing everything we do now, it's ludicrous that a query about his future was even a discussion point.

Some of his best days in the Irish jersey were still to come. The Tallaght man has announced his retirement with a record of 145 caps and 67 goals, a stunning haul that leaves him 15th in the recognised all-time charts and he will seek to add to it in his farewell meeting with Oman.

One more goal would place him level with Gerd Muller. Currently, he's five clear of the Brazilian Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Generations from now, it's safe to assume that he will be listed as the Republic of Ireland's all-time record goalscorer. His legacy will live on.

Confirming that next Wednesday's clash with Oman will be his last in the green jersey, Keane last night explained: "It has been a wonderful journey for me to have played with the Irish national team for over 18 years since I made my senior international debut back in 1998.

"It has also been a great honour, for both me and my family, to have been given the opportunity to captain my country for over 10 years.

"As a young boy growing up in Dublin playing football on the street I could never have imagined the path my life would take - it has exceeded my wildest expectations.

"I have been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to play for and captain my country - it was my ultimate goal all those years ago and it has been, by far, my greatest achievement.

"I would never have believed all those years ago that I would get the opportunity to play for my country 145 times and to score 67 goals and through it all, I have never stopped chasing the next one!"

He continued: "I had always hoped this day would never come and I will miss putting on the Irish jersey and walking out to a sea of green but I am looking forward to the game against Oman and putting on the jersey and singing the national anthem one last time in front of the home crowd at the Aviva.

"It will be an emotional night for me but I will savour each and every last moment."

The final years and the complete absence of a comparative figure coming through the ranks have allowed the public to fully appreciate Keane's greatness.

His natural swagger didn't always endear him to the public; he was often guarded in front of the cameras and around media folk whereas his counterparts in other codes were always available to speak in more dulcet tones without ever really saying anything.

He became the Republic's captain during Staunton's nightmare tenure and received plenty of flak in that tragi-comic period where nobody escaped unscathed. A defensive front was the default setting.

But when Keane had a point to make, he was always worth listening to. Players with a seemingly casual approach to the international game were a frequent target for his ire. You always knew what was coming when Stephen Ireland's name was raised.

Overall, though, Keane respected the code of the dressing room and, despite being shunted from club to club during his career, he seldom aired dirty laundry in public when he unquestionably had the ammunition to unleash.

Now at LA Galaxy, he was clearly frustrated by how Rafa Benitez treated him at Liverpool, but he stopped short of a tell-all account.

The transition from young buck to senior pro was seamless, even if he retained the cheeky sense of humour. Martin Jol had to deal with the odd tantrum when Keane was out of favour, but he has said that the Dubliner was one of the best characters he'd ever worked with.

When he first walked into the senior Irish dressing room, he wasn't intimidated. He felt that he belonged and quickly showed that to be the case, gaining respect and authority.

"He wanted to show everyone what a good player he was," said Shay Given last night. "He didn't mind taking them on."

Keane was superb in the 2002 World Cup and his colleagues from that adventure always speak of him in glowing terms. Indeed, it was notable just how awkward it was for those who retired and moved into media work when they had to analyse the final furlongs of the veteran's Irish journey. There was a reluctance to come out and say that dropping him to the bench might be the best cause of action; loyalty was a factor in that.

In 2011, he made the bold move to America and LA Galaxy which - from the glass half full perspective - seemed to be the easy option compared to prolonging his Premier League existence.

The drop in standard allowed him to dominate, but players with a high profile have toiled in the MLS because they view it as a retirement package.

He was able to handle a peripheral role under Martin O'Neill and was first on the pitch to congratulate Shane Long after the famous win over Germany.

A month later in the fog in Bosnia, he was audibly barking instructions from the sideline. O'Neill was always going to bring that presence to France.

Behind the scenes, he is influential and his savvy in this regard will stand to him for the road ahead. He will unquestionably have a role to play in the long term. Friends of Keane are convinced that he is only bringing down the curtain on phase one of his national service.

Robbie Keane, Republic of Ireland manager? That day will come.

Belfast Telegraph


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