Robbie Keane – International Man of Mystery

by Robbie Deighan

At 33-years-old, Friday night’s 2-1 home defeat to Sweden has almost certainly ended Robbie Keane’s hopes of playing in one last international tournament for his country.

The LA Galaxy striker’s 60th international goal unfortunately wasn’t enough to overcome a superior Swedish side at the Aviva.

The Irish captain will be 36 by the time EURO 2016 comes around. Considering he is currently enjoying semi-retirement by playing his club football in the United States, it seems very likely that the three remaining games in Group C could be Keane’s last in a green shirt.

As the stats will show, Robbie has undoubtedly been Ireland’s most important player for over a decade, since Saipan, yet since his disastrous spell at Liverpool he has become somewhat of a figure of ridicule in football, even for Irish fans.

The comments from ‘the greatest fans in the world’ are there for all to see. Just browse Twitter or Facebook before an Ireland game to see supporters bemoaning Keane’s inclusion in the starting XI, while offering no real alternative.

They offer no alternative because there is no alternative worth taking. Robbie Keane has been sensational at international level. 60 goals in 128 games. For Ireland. As some of his admirers have pointed out, that’s more than Romario, Thierry Henry, Bobby Charlton, and Gabriel Batistuta. Indeed, in the history of international football only 16 players have bettered Keane’s record of 60 strikes.

41 of those strikes have come in competitive games. He has hit in the net in qualifiers against the likes of Italy, France, and Holland, while in the 2002 World Cup he scored against Spain and was the only player in the tournament besides Ronaldo to put the ball past Germany’s Oliver Kahn. Perhaps more importantly, Keane consistently puts the lesser sides to the sword, a trait which has yet to be picked up by the likes of Shane Long and Kevin Doyle.

These are not just past glories either. 28 of the Tallaght native’s goals have come under the current manager, meaning Keane is responsible for 32.5% of the 86 goals scored under the Trapattoni regime.

Looking closer, Trap has taken charge of Ireland for 27 qualifiers to date. In those 27 games Ireland have scored 34 times. Keane claimed 15 of them, meaning he has scored 44% of the goals that have aided our task of qualifying for major international tournaments under Trap.

Five came in the campaign for South Africa 2010, the successful quest to reach EURO 2012 also yielded five goals, and Keane currently stands on five in the increasingly hopeless task of claiming second place in Group C.

In the two-legged play-off games against France and Estonia respectively, Keane scored in both away ties; one in Paris and two in Tallinn.

Even at 33, the idea of relying on Shane Long, Kevin Doyle or Conor Sammon in Keane’s stead isn’t worth thinking about it. The trio have mustered ten competitive goals for Ireland between them. League One striker Doyle is responsible for nine of them. His career has nosedived in recent seasons, and as he is turning 30 this month he has little time to arrest his decline.

When Keane retires, Ireland will lose one of the great international strikers. Yet, because of a hot and cold club career and a tendency to describe every other transfer as a ‘dream come true’,  the departure of Ireland’s top ever goalscorer and record appearance maker will probably be met with encouragement by a section of the support, but when Ireland search for goals in the post-Keane era, they will surely remember him as the finest Ireland striker of all time.

26 Responses

  1. Peter says:

    A genius piece Robbie, about Robbie.
    He might flap his arms a bit much for my liking, but the maestro will be missed. By me and Ireland.

  2. MMV says:

    Enjoying “semi-retirement” by playing football in the States??? What an uneducated twat you are. Give me a break. You obviously know nothing about the quality of MLS and its continual rise in the standard of play. Shame people like you will never give the league its proper due.

  3. Please hold off on the abuse. If you were familiar with the site you would know we are nothing but 100% supportive of the MLS and look to promote it as much as possible, be it in our writing http://backpagefootball.com/category/mls/ or on the podcast.

    It can be understandable that the MLS could be regarded as a ‘semi retirement’ league, considering the age profile of European players that go there. I took it as a tongue in cheeky comment from Robbie.

  4. NFB says:

    I got as far as yet another sarcastic quotes rendition of “the greatest fans in the world” and stopped reading. This inane hatred of the Irish fanbase, casual or no, from many commentators and analysts is getting beyond tiring to me, and all because some people liked that they cheered the team on in Poland.

  5. Fergus Cafferty says:

    I watched Robbie play in the MLS, he was the hardest working player on the pitch, didn’t seem like he considered it retirement. At least 2/3 of the players were young internationals from Africa or Central/South America, with a few older Europeans like Robbie.
    I’d put the standard at top of English championship, a level that is equal/better than a significant portion of Irish squads traditionally come from.
    On a MLS top 5 feature recently of most dangerous player in the league of all time, Robbie got Number 1 spot, beating the likes of Henry and Beckham. He’s putting in the same hard honest graft he always has, it’s not recognised in the land of begrudgery, but is in the land of opportunity.

  6. Robbie Deighan says:

    MMV, I’m more than aware of the ever-improving MLS. It’s unfortunate that you took the ‘semi-retirement’ line as a slight on the league, it was more a comment on the trend of ageing players moving to North America. I don’t think Keane, Beckham, Henry, Cahill etc. would’ve entertained the idea of moving to the MLS at any other stage of their career but the end.

  7. Fergus Cafferty says:

    I disagree. Simple market forces determine when players move, especially for the likes of Keane. He puts his all into his clubs, but ultimately regards it as a way to make a living. Fair enough, I’m the same in my profession.
    If the best financial deal Robbie Keane could get in his 20′s was the MLS, he’d have moved there.
    There is a snobbery amongst european fans, that is taken up by the media, that the MLS is an ambition graveyard…this puts pressure on national managers not to pick players who move to the states. However,as so many players see the national team only as a way to increase exposure and earning potential, if the price is high enough to compensate, they’ll move.
    The MLS are happy to pay well over market rate for players who had successful stints in top European leagues, simple market forces in action as their presence puts bums on seats and shirts on backs. The league is too poor to afford top European players at their peak. But standard and facilities are as good as English championship, or bottom of heavily skewed leagues such as La Liga/ Ligue 1. If Robbie had got a better deal from a club in that group at this stage in his career, nobody would’ve accused him of semi-retirement. Doyle plays in what was the old division 3 for Christ’s sake, and that’s not considered semi-retirement!

  8. Robbie Deighan says:

    Doyle would’ve jumped at the chance to get out of League One had the opportunity presented itself I’m sure. I doubt he is content with the situation, or indeed, his current level of performance.

    “If the best financial deal Robbie Keane could get in his 20′s was the MLS, he’d have moved there.”

    I disagree. You’ve stated yourself that international managers (unfairly as it is) would generally be less inclined to select players based in the MLS, so moving to North America is not just dictated by the wage on offer or the standard of competition/facilities. Footballers turning down more lucrative offers in order to play for a (perceived) bigger club or in a (again, perceived) higher standard of competition is not a rare thing. The allure and grandeur can satisfy the ego in a way that money can’t. And I wouldn’t have Robbie down as the type that sees the national team as a method to ‘increase exposure and earning potential’.

  9. Fergus Cafferty says:

    So players won’t play in MLS because of lack of glory? Nonsense, if the price is right they’d play anywhere. Less prestigious clubs have always had to pay a premium to compensate for lack of glamour. Robbie would’ve gone to the states at any age if the price was right.
    But he was so good for a decade, only top european clubs could afford him.
    For his LA Galaxy move, he was at a stage in his career where they were willing to pay a big premium because of his star status that clubs in England were not. Simple math, deal suited both parties, he jumped. How it suited Ireland wasn’t a major factor, even for him.
    As for Doyle, I’m sure a big wage cut would see him have got a deal with a newly promoted side when Wolves dropped out of the premier league. He didn’t want that, fair enough.
    So why is it you say Doyle wouldn’t be in league 1 by choice, as if no opportunity to move on ever presented itself to him (albeit with a pay cut), yet you insult Keane by saying he chose semi-retirement? The situation is similar.
    Both are simply on the best deal they could get. It just so happens that Robbie luckily got a great one with a young league that pines for a taste of far away European star power.

  10. Robbie Deighan says:

    Of course some players would be play anywhere if the price was right. I’m not debating that point. You seem to be suggesting that every player would follow the dollar, regardless of other factors. I think Keane, having grown up watching English and European football, would not have turned down the moves to Inter, Spurs, and Liverpool respectively even if offers from the MLS with greater financial reward had been on the table at the time.

    I don’t agree with the rather cold view that all footballers simply follow the money. I’d like to think it’s not that simplistic, not so black and white. I know from following Liverpool that the likes of Benayoun and Torres both took pay cuts in order to join the club. Why? To play in a higher standard of competition, the Champions League. Finances don’t dictate everything, although obviously there are plenty of players on the flipside who are purely motivated by salary.

    If your POV was reality, surely there would be plenty of examples of young talented Europeans leaving for the MLS when out-of-contract or free agents, or to Oz where Del Piero and Heskey have gone, or further back, to the likes of UAE and Qatar where Batistuta and Guardiola finished up?

    I wasn’t aware Doyle received any concrete offers since Wolves’ relegation(s).

    1. Fergus Cafferty says:

      Well I think it is that simple.
      Guys take paycuts to play in a more glamorous league / or go from a squad member to first team football, only when they’re young enough to expect another transfer later on. It adds value to their cv, and is simply good long term planning. It almost never happens when they’re older and don’t expect another transfer.
      Look at Gary Kelly who wouldn’t leave his nice Leeds contract, despite being far better than 3rd tier football. If he was young he’d have gone for a paycut when they dropped, with a view to the subsequent contract.
      Or Doyle, he’s had lots of opportunities to leave Wolves. But he’s 30 years old, and no-one is willing to match his 40 grand a week contract. Therefore, he spins a load of guff about wanting to fight and get Wolves promoted. It’s all about earning, fair enough. But again, really unfair to rue his fate, while labeling Robbie a guy in semi-retirement.
      You asked me why young talented players don’t join MLS when out of contract? I gave my opinion in my last post, have a second read… MLS is not flush with cash/oil billions/unsustainable debt, and simply can’t afford to compete for the really good ones at their peak, and won’t pay higher than current market rate for average, not-really-famous players, as they wouldn’t attract new fans to the stadiums. Simple economics.
      You’re too much of a romantic I’m afraid. I love bringing lads like you on our trips to Old Trafford, and seeing the look of disgust on their face when they see the long superstore queues, hotdog and Budweiser stands, and realise it’s a faceless global corporation, players are employees, and we’re consumers, whether or not we call ourselves that.

  11. Fergus says:

    Good article but the disrespect shown to the MLS (or the MSL as Dummy calls it!) is akin to the disrespect that is shown to our league. Clint Dempsey has left the premiership to go home and he is only 30. He wouldnt be too amused if you told him he’s in semi retirement.

    You are right with the slight on the “greatest fans in the world”. I too chortle when I see that nauseating ad on television. The worst fans in the world would be more apt as they refuse to support their own league. Something that every other country in the world does.

    You “follow” liverfool Robbie? Do you support an Irish club?

  12. Fergus Cafferty says:

    Hey what are the odds on 2 guys, both named Fergus, commenting on an article, written by a guy called Robbie, about a guy called Robbie?

  13. Matt says:

    Keane is a flat track bully. Only 41 of his 60 goals have been in competitive matches. Of those 41 goals, 26 have come against teams ranked much lower than Ireland in FIFA rankings, hat-tricks against Faroe Islands and San Marino etc.

    So only 15 of his goals have come in relatively tight or important games. Or, to look at that rather cruely, just 25% of his goals have even mattered.

    In fact Keane has never scored more than a single goal in any game against opposition of note, with the possible exception of Macedonia. And few would consider them a team of note.

    Robbie tries his heart out and fair play to him. But to compare him to Klose or to a player of Puskas’ standing is laughably absurd regardless of what the stats tell us.

    You’re using goal stats like a drunk uses a lamp post; for support rather than illumination!

  14. Fergus Cafferty says:

    All good strikers, logically, should find it a lot easier to find space and score against poorer teams. Then it comes down to their ability to have good technique and exploit the chance that presents itself. When you’re playing a weaker side a good striker will score. Against a tougher side, with space harder to come by, goals are scruffier and more likely to be scored by midfielder arriving late / player up for corner etc.
    You mentioned Puskas and Klose…did all their goals come against Brazil? Care to provide the same breakdown you gave for Keane?

  15. Robbie Deighan says:

    You can’t just dismiss the goals he scored against lesser sides when no other Irish striker seems capable of providing them on a regular basis in Keane’s absence.

    Take away Robbie’s goals and we probably wouldn’t cope much better than Northern Ireland or Wales, unable to put away weak opponents. His goals, even against lowly sides, have been vital.

  16. Matt says:

    I only mentioned Klosé and Puskás because you used Keane’s stats to compare him to them. And that is lunacy!

    Puskás, for example, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. He averaged nearly a goal a game, scoring 84 goals in 85 international matches for Hungary, including a run to the 1954 World Cup final in which he scored, and 514 goals in 529 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish leagues.

    He was an Olympic champion, a World Cup finalist, won three European Cups, scoring 7 goals in two finals, playing for, arguably, the greatest club team of all time, won 10 national championships and a whole slew of top individual scoring honours.

    Messi or potentially Cristiano Ronaldo are the only current players that even come close to Puskás. And we will only know how close they’ve come towards the end of their careers.

    My response wasn’t to denigrate Robbie Keane, who is a good enough wee player, but to put things in perspective. Let’s not kid ourselves – he’s not even close to the best “Keane” that has ever played for Ireland.

    Robbie’s love of his country cannot be doubted, his effort can never be questioned, his service to Ireland is exemplary but he is NOT one of the best international strikers of all time nor is he one of the best Irish players of all time, regardless of the statistics. And he, most certainly, should never be compared to Puskás, the comparison being both unfair to him and a disservice to the history of football.

    It’s like comparing Rihanna to Beethoven. Now I love Rihanna and would much rather be stuck on a desert island with her rather than with Beethoven but only an idiot would compare their musical careers or use “stats” to prove that Rihanna is the better artist because she has more Number 1′s than Beethoven!

    1. Robbie says:

      A solid defence of Puskàs but I never even mentioned Puskàs in the article, let alone compared him to Keane!

      Nor did I compare Keane to Klose. I just stated that Robbie is 8 goals short of his jointly-held record. Which is a fact. I also mentioned that some of his admirers had tweeted other top players’ records to illustrate just how good Keane’s tally is.

  17. Matt says:

    Ha! I re-read the piece and you didn’t mention Puskas at all. You score!! 0 – 1.

    Having said that – you did mention that Robbie is only 8 goals off the European international goal scoring record – which isn’t actually held by Klose and Muller on 68 – it’s held by Puskas on 84. I guess that’s where I got the magical Maygar from. So, in fairness, I score too! :-) 1 – 1.

    And to hide behind such a semantic argument as pretending not to have compared Keane to Klose or Muller while admitting that you stated “Robbie is just 8 goals shy of his jointly-held record” is a definite own goal! Why would you state such a thing in an article about Keane if not by way of comparison?

    So I make that 2 – 1 to me! ;-)

    Muller, by the way, is a goal scoring genius in the Puskas mold. Klose doesn’t come close. And Robbie, for all his goal scoring exploits, is even further behind.

  18. Fergus Cafferty says:

    Matt, you broke down Keane’s goals to support your theory that he is a flat track bully, then concluded that he’s no Puskas, without bothering to employ the same scientific rigor to Puskas’ record…

    It’s impossible to accurately compare the two, but don’t forget that…
    1) As arguably part of the greatest side in the world at the time, with a revolutionary possession style that dumbfounded opponents, almost every goal Puskas scored for his country was when his team was in complete control of the game. Keane rarely if ever had this luxury.
    2) It is a fact of globalisation that all international teams now have the same shared knowledge of the latest tactical and defensive strategies. Gone are the days when Puskas played, where you’d come across teams with shockingly naive formations that could be steamrolled. There are no easy games, even the Faroe islands can cause top teams problems to break down.

    Again, very unfair to compare players across the decades, but bearing in mind Keane plays for such a poor nation, plagued by uncreative managers, and in the modern, defensively solid era, gives his impressive tally extra credibility over guys like Puskas who enjoyed the luxury of world class teammates.

    1. Matt says:

      You’re crazily, moodily, madly incorrect! It’s fantastically easy to compare players across a generational divide.

      It’s even easier to compare players who played in the same time frame or on the same team. So let’s do that first and see if you can keep up.

      In Keane’s entire club career, before his “semi-retirement”, as you so aptly named it, he has won only one medal – the league cup.

      You may well argue that had he played in better teams he would have won much more. You are right. But then if you or I had played for Manchester United or Milan for the past 15 years we would have won more medals too.

      Can you guess why we didn’t play for Milan or Man U? It’s the very same reason Keane didn’t; none of us are good enough.

      SAF and the Milanese managers must agree. Why? Because otherwise they would have bought Keane.

      So the reason he didn’t play in better club teams is blindingly obvious.

      And three examples will prove it – if Robbie was good enough then SAF would have bought him instead of his one-time club team mates, Berbie and Carrick and would have broken the British transfer record to buy him, instead of his one-time international team mate and namesake, Roy.

      If Robbie wasn’t good enough to be one of the best club players of his own time; how, then, can he be one of the best international players? The answer is simple – he can’t. It’s impossible.

      What, then, is the reason for his international success?

      There is only one logical explanation – Keane’s international record is an anomaly. Brought about by the lack of Irish striking options, the increased number of games modern footballers play, against small countries which didn’t even exist 25 short years ago. Which brings me back to the exact point made in my first post – Keane is a flat track bully.

      Following so far? So let’s try with players that cross the generational divide.

      Puskás is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest players of all time. By who? By everyone who matters. By all that saw him play or were lucky enough to play in the same team. By his opponents. By his managers. And by the vast majority of football journalists.

      His statistics, his list of honours and the hushed reverence with which his name is mentioned is enough to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he truly belongs in the pantheon of all time greats.

      The same may be said of Pele, Maradonna, Messi, Socrates, Beckenbauer, Best and countless others. But not about Keane.

      One may argue that Pele is better than Puskás or Messi is better than Maradonna or vice versa. Such opinions are entirely subjective and the nuances of the arguments is what makes football such a beautiful game.

      Keane, however, is a million miles away from being one of the best of his generation and a billion miles away from being one of the best of all time.

      To compare him to Puskás or to Muller or to Messi or to Maradonna is laughably absurd, regardless of the statistical anomaly of his international scoring record. And you, despite your semantic protestations, have done just that and anyone doing that can only be one of two things; obtuse and argumentative or just plain stupid.

      Keane may well be the best Irish striker of all time. But that’s a little like being the leper with the most fingers. You’re big bananas in the leper colony. But not such hot stuff in the real world.

      I’ll let you to play with the lepers now. I’m needed back in the real world. Hope you have fun!

  19. Robbie Deighan says:

    Ouch, such a soft equalizer to concede! Cheers for pointing it out.

    Unfortunately, your second strike at goal didn’t fully cross the line in my books!

    By mentioning Klose and others with great records at international level I was merely intending to give context to Keane’s achievements. Pointing out his tally in isolation doesn’t do much in way of showing how impressive it is.

    It’s akin to Rooney hitting a milestone for United, and then pointing out that he is only x amount of goals away from Bobby Charlton’s record. It’s to give context, not to draw comparisons.

    1. Matt says:

      Ha! I love it. You win! No. No! I mean it’s a draw! ;)

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