The Tallaght man said the following at Tuesday’s eve of Republic of Ireland -v- England press conference:
I want to play for my country more than anything and it still means as much to me now as when I made my debut at 18. I can never understand why players don’t want to play for their country.
Keane’s attitude however is one which in this second decade of the 21st century is all too rarely seen. Also referenced during the same press conference was Rio Ferdinand and the Londoner’s reasons for retiring from international football whilst continuing to ply his trade at Manchester United. Keane remain baffled and said he couldn’t supply an answer as to why Ferdinand would quit the international game while still performing at such a high level on the club stage.
Countless players over recent years have quit the international arena so as to prolong their club career. Luminary names such as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Jon Terry to name but a few have all quit international football whilst still at the peak of their playing capabilities.
The thought of how attitudes towards international football have changed over recent decades came into my mind when reading a wonderfully well written article (penned by Louis Massarella) in the match programme for this week’s England -v- Republic of Ireland clash which chronicled the life and times of Sir Bobby Robson.
The piece detailed Bobby’s all consuming passion for representing and managing his country. Bobby’s wife Lady Elsie Robson stated that for her husband, a football person’s playing career is always the highlight but “very few people ask me about my playing career” despite the fact that Bobby won 20 England caps (in a time when there was considerably less international football), played at two World Cups and was replaced in the national team by no less a name than one Bobby Moore. Robson would also make more than 500 top flight appearances for Fulham and West Brom.
For Robson and anyone of his era, representing your country was the absolute zenith of the footballing pyramid though, having once stated:
People always ask me what my proudest moment was and I always say it was being asked to play for my country for the first time. In fact, I would say it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life.
The most famous time of Robson’s career though was of course his eventful eight year period as manager of The Three Lions. Over the course of the two World Cups Robson presided over England, his side were only knocked out of the 1986 global finals by that (in)famous Maradona handball as Argentina went on to lift the trophy while four years later it was also the eventual champions, West Germany, that knocked out Robson’s side in a semi-final penalty shoot-out which is still England’s best performance at a foreign World Cup.
With the financial behemoth that the UEFA Champions League has now become, for many players and those involved/interested in football, the club game has greatly diluted the importance of international football. Players of course have a limited shelf life and they want to maximise the money they can make so some might argue that it is understandable that they do not prioritise playing for their country.
Not men like Robbie Keane though. Despite being oft maligned and frequently the butt of jokes (with the frequently repeated joke “Club X was my boyhood club” being particularly popular among keyboard warriors any time Keane changes club, which has been more often than most footballers) – playing for Ireland is the absolute zenith of the game for him. With his club LA Galaxy under no obligation to release Keane for this week’s Wembley friendly against England, Keane faced the wrath of his manager Bruce Arena in his desire to pass up his club commitments in the United States to be part of his country’s set up.
Despite the fact that Robbie Keane is now past his best as a footballer, he deserves great credit for his desire to represent his country. Not for him the quick buck of the club game (though he is of course handsomely paid), for Keane playing for his country is as good as it gets as a professional footballer. While the rewards at the top of today’s game are almost infinitely more handsome than Sir Bobby Robson’s day, one suspects that were he still alive, Bobby would have the same attitude.
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