Should Irish fans give Robbie Keane more credit?

by James Clancy

On Saturday night, Robbie Keane won the MLS Cup title with LA Galaxy while scoring the title clinching goal from the penalty spot in the last minute of what became a 3-1 win over Houston Dynamo at Galaxy’s Home Depot Centre.

Keane has now won two MLS titles in his 16 months with the Galaxy, scoring an impressive 18 goals from 32 league appearances for the side. Galaxy have now won the MLS title a total of four times, equaling DC United’s record.

David Beckham’s departure from centre stage on Saturday night was greeted with the fanfare of a standing ovation from the 30,000 strong plus home support when the Englishman was substituted in the final minute of his final game for the club. Robbie Keane has experienced nothing like that level of adulation from supporters on either side of the Atlantic however.

Houston went ahead in the last minute of the first half through a composed finish from Calen Carr.

The home side equalized on the hour mark when Omar Gonzalez rose highest to head home from ten yards out. Landon Donovan put Galaxy ahead from the penalty spot five minutes later in what could be the California native’s final game for the club. Keane’s penalty four minutes into injury time at the death of the game meant that the MLS Cup would be staying at the Home Depot Centre for another year.

There are many critics and observers who would argue that Keane has been a bigger influence on Galaxy over the last 16 months than Beckham has been over the last few years. After Keane had won and scored that last gasp penalty to clinch the MLS title, ESPN commentator Glenn Davis stated:

It’d be hard to argue with anyone who would say that Robbie Keane has been the best player in the MLS since 1st July. He has taken the Galaxy team quietly on his shoulders and led them from the front.

Keane was voted onto the MLS Team of the Year for 2012 last week. This was barely mentioned by Irish media and received virtually zero praise.

Most football fans will have seen the recent photo of the 32 year-old being pictured with Russell Brand and David Beckham alongside a couple of young fans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with the caption stating: “David Beckham and Russel Brand pose with unidentified fans during an LA Lakers basketball game.”

The picture was ‘greeted’ with scorn and ‘amusement’ from Irish people who posted comments on the photo in large volumes and with great mirth. A well known national radio station posted the photo on it’s official Facebook page with more than 100 comments posted from Facebook followers of the radio station. The vast majority of those comments were negative towards Keane with one comment on the thread stating: “What a gigantic prick” gaining several ‘Like’s on the popular social media site. Last week, this very same national radio station made no reference to Keane being voted onto the MLS Team of the Year and certainly made no mention of it on their official Facebook page or Twitter stream.

Maybe this needs to be put into context. Two weeks before the now infamous photo at the Staples Center was taken, the Republic of Ireland had played the Faroe Islands in a World Cup qualifier. The Boys in Green won 4-1 with Jonathan Walters putting the Republic 2-1 ahead early in the second half from a header. With the ball heading towards goal, Keane threw his foot at it and though he missed the ball by a few inches, the Tallaght man wheeled away in celebration with arms aloft to celebrate as if he had scored the goal.

What might put the whole issue somewhat more into context is that Robbie Keane has been past his best for the last few years. Giovanni Trapattoni’s demanding pressing ‘style’ of play as Irish manager does not suit Keane’s game. He was never the quickest and at 32 years-old, Keane’s legs now allow him get up and down the pitch a lot less than they did during the early stages of his professional career.

Robbie Keane is a man who has always taken great pride in playing for his country though. His caps tally of 122 testifies to that and he looks almost certain to surpass Shay Given’s Irish record of 125. Keane said that after Euro 2012 ended he had considered retiring from international football but stated that he “couldn’t imagine not playing for Ireland” and that he wanted to continue playing for his country for “as long as I possibly can.”

At this stage of his career the LA Galaxy man should have been dropped to the bench a few years ago at international level. This is something which is up to the manager however. Trapattoni has steadfastly refused to drop the nation’s record goalscorer any time the Dubliner is fit and available to play. Robbie Keane has a role to play at international level, but at this stage of his career, that role should be from the bench and well into the second half of a game, when the team need a goal.

Keane should not be blamed for the fact that Trapattoni refuses to drop him however. He should in fact be commended for always making himself available to represent his country and to undertake the arduous eight hour trans Atlantic flight, several times a year, which getting to Ireland now entails for him. With the quality of players of the likes of Shane Long at his disposal however, Trapattoni’s steadfast refusal to drop Keane is bizarre though. “Look at his (goal scoring) record,” being the reason the Italian continually gives when asked.

Once again, the Italian’s stance is not Keane’s fault however. It is not up to Keane to pick the team. The Republic beat Estonia 4-0 in Tallinn 12 months ago. The nation’s captain was asked by his club manager (Bruce Arena) to come back to Los Angeles to prepare for a huge MLS game (the final of the competition in fact). Keane refused his club manager’s request however. He said it would be ‘disrespectful’ to his (national) team mates not to finish the job in Dublin four days later, despite the fact that with a four goal lead from the first leg win over Estonia, it was effectively a dead rubber.

Keane deserves to be praised for this however and not slated because he might be past his best or because he claims goals which any other successful striker in the world would claim in a heart beat.

There was further fuel added to the anti-Robbie Keane fire two weeks ago during the MLS Cup semi-final playoffs. With Robbie Keane having scored the only goal of the first leg, Galaxy midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson bundled the ball past Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and it was rolling towards goal. With the ball about to roll into the net and less than one foot out from goal, Robbie rushed along to poke the ball over the goal line.

Keane proceeded to wheel away in dramatic celebration once again. Yes, his celebration was over the top and he should have acknowledged his team-mate’s build-up play. The fact that he didn’t is a minor triviality however. As for tapping the ball into an open goal from one foot out with the ball headed into the goal anyway? Well, show me a striker who wouldn’t do that and I’ll show you a failed striker. For Keane to be slated the way he was by Irish football ‘fans’ in the aftermath of that ‘incident’ was abominable and difficult to comprehend for a man who has shown such commitment to his national team.

One particularly popular post from an Irish football fan stated: “Typical thieving Tallaght gourier! He tried robbing Walters goal against the Faroes too. Nail down your copper lads, there’s a pikey about.” That comment attracted half-a-dozen ‘Likes’ on the official Facebook page of the same aforementioned national radio station.

I should state here that a small number of people supported Robbie Keane on these various threads which had generally slated him. One theme in defence of Keane was that people were jealous of him having much more success and being much wealthier than them, despite the Degrees and Masters that they might have.

While a plethora of Irish media outlets jumped at the opportunity to slate Keane for his recent actions/photo with Beckham and Russell Brand, there was hardly a mention of the Dubliner’s double success this week. Yes, the MLS isn’t as strong as the English Premier League. It is no graveyard however and for Keane to get on the Team of the Year as well as winning the MLS title again is no mean feat.

I would personally like to say that people need to get off Robbie Keane’s back as well as to give the nation’s record goalscorer (and soon to be record caps holder) credit when he deserves it. Yes, he is a multi-millionaire who has a good life in a nice part of the world, so the abuse he gets from Irish fans is probably water off a duck’s back. He does however deserve more credit from his homeland than he has typically been given. Yes, he shouldn’t celebrate goals that aren’t his. His attitude on the pitch and as a man as well as his attitude towards representing his country is something which many more celebrated Irish footballers (with Keane’s namesake leaping to mind) could do much worse than learning something from.

8 Responses

  1. Joe Molan says:

    Pretty shameful that Robbie’s performance in MLS has been totally overlooked by the Irish press & yet his lampooning for the Brand/Beckham picture gets top billing.

    Whilst Beck’s exit was paraded around on most news outlets, I still had to google the result of the final, to see who the hell won!

    Keane was commits himself 110%, and it’s good to see the Galaxy fans see that quality in him.

    1. James Clancy James Clancy says:

      I, as author of this piece, agree totally with what you have said Joe Molan. Sadly we appear to be in the minority.

      I hope you keep reading in the new year Joe.

  2. Alan Nolan says:

    Robbie’s commitment, attitude and work rate are an example to all young sports people. But we shouldn’t lose sight of his quality and here he gets very little credit from the media and from some fans. His record for Ireland speaks for itself:

    He is the 8th Highest International Goalscorer of all time in Europe.

    That is ahead of Thierry Henri, Bobby Charlton, Dimitar Berbatov, Andriy Shevchenko, Patrick Kluivert, Gary Lineker, Wayne Rooney, Denis Law, Ian Rush etc.

    His strike rate per game is behind some of these and ahead of others but of course he was playing for the Republic of Ireland so he had it easy with all of the creativity and goal scoring chances that our team has been famous for during his career. Some of the other guys only played for Netherlands, France, England etc. so you can’t compare Robbie to them…….is that how it goes?

  3. Catamount says:

    As an American and Galaxy supporter with Scottish lineage I want to add my wholehearted “Dislike” to any Irish fan that slates Robbie Keane. I’m sure Irishmen and women could care less, but there it is.

    If Robbie didn’t bleed green we’d love for him to don the Stars and Stripes as so many millions of Irishmen have. Wilhemson, who struck the shot that Keane finished off from a yard out said, “He’s a striker. That’s what I would expect him to do.”

    Perhaps all Irishmen should take a clue from the Swede whenever they consider something Robbie Keane does: “He’s a striker, and Irish to boot. That’s what I would expect him to do.”

    1. James Clancy James Clancy says:

      I didn’t know that Wilhemson said: “He’s a striker. That’s what I would expect him to do,” – it is of course a totally accurate statement. The look on Wilhemson’s face immediately after ‘that’ goal was hilarious though.

      1. Catamount says:

        Actual quote was:

        “This was on its way in, but it’s OK,” laughed Wilhelmsson, a Swedish international. “He’s a striker. That’s how they should think. It’s better to be there one time too much than one time too little.”

        Keane, Galaxy top Seattle 3-0

  4. Mark says:

    I agree that Robbie deserves more respect. His goals record, especially at international level, speaks for itself. I’ve always been most impressed with his appetite for football. I don’t remember hearing complaints from him whenever his career hits a roadblock, like the brief stint at Anfield. He just gets on with it.

    I’m a Villa fan and Robbie’s brief stay last season gave the squad a lift and his goals contributed to us staying up. His goal celebrations make him look like a drunk gymnast and don’t add to his likability but the lad is excited to pop a goal in so fair play to him. I hope he keeps banging in the goals and ignoring the begrudgers.

    Richard Dunne is another player who I think receives unfair criticism. Most mentions on club forums complain about his defensive lapses but I think he was the most important Villa player last season.

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