Friday, June 17, 2011
Robbie Keane Biography: 14 Years of a Legend Being Taken for Granted
To say that Robbie Keane is much maligned would be something of an understatement. The ex-Leeds, ex-Inter Milan, ex-Liverpool and quite possibly the soon to be ex-Spurs striker has had to suffer more than his fair share of "slings and arrows" during his 14 year career.
It is, however, more than worth noting though that Keane is his country's top scorer of all time with 51 goals in 108 games for Ireland.
He is also the ninth highest goal scorer in Tottenham Hotspur history with 121 goals from 291 matches and the 10th highest scorer of all time in the English Premier League with 123 strikes.
Keane is the 10th highest scoring European international footballer of all time, the 27th highest scoring international footballer of all time, and, probably, most importantly he is the most prolific international striker of all time from the British Isles.
Which isn’t bad for someone who many feel isn't exactly a great player.
Keane has literally travelled the seven seas as a footballer. Between six transfers, nine teams, 14 managers and 14 years he has accounted for £70.3 million worth of transfer fees. He has travelled from the Auld Sod to the Black Country to Lombardy, Liverpool and London and has played some 657 matches and has scored some 261 goals (1 goal :2.6 games).
He has lived the life of an ordinary decent pro to the fullest and has fought back from the dead of being taken for granted so many times now that he can only be possessed of hope in Andy Dufresne sized quantities.
In short, Robbie Keane never gives up.
His career is well worn tale. From a schoolboy footballer in the working class urban sprawl of Tallaght he was picked up by Crumlin United before Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers came stalking the young striker.
He chose Wolves and Steve Bull over Liverpool and Roy Evans because he felt first team football would come sooner at Molineaux, and he was right.
He made his debut within two years of moving over to England and within one season, the 17-year-old would become top scorer of the club while a number of Premiership teams lurked in the stands as his star began to rise.
He made his international début for Ireland against the Czech Republic in Olomouc the same season and then followed this up with impressive performances against Argentina, Paraguay, Sweden, and Mexico before he scoring his first goals for his country with a brace against Malta in Dublin.
So it was surprising to see that it was Gordon Strachan and Coventry City who made the first move for the youngster.
All of a sudden Keane was the most expensive teenager in British football history with a £6 million price tag sitting on his head.
The Sky Blues had taken advantage of Wolves' growing debt after years of chasing the Premier League and had picked up the hottest young prospect in British football for what they considered a snip at half the price.
Once again, the move to a team without high expectations and little pressure paid off as Keane added to his 24 goals in 73 games for Wolves (1 goal : 3 matches) with 12 goals in 31 games for Coventry (1 : 2.6). Perhaps though, the most important statistic was his four goals in just eight games for Ireland.
This impressive jump in statistics at a higher level prompted many leading Premier League managers to re-evaluate him as a player and it became common place for them to be asked about the young striker as a potential transfer target. One such question prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to state "I wouldn't pay £600,000 for the lad never mind £6 million!"
That didn't put Marcelo Lippi off though, and less than 12 months after joining Coventry for a record fee, the young Irishman moved to Inter Milan for another record fee, a cool £13 million.
The Sky Blues saw the chance to double their money on Keane as the opportunity to consolidate their Premiership status and make some major money into the bargain, but in reality his sale was the main reason behind their relegation the following season. Without his presence and goals, Coventry sank without a trace ever since.
The wisdom of Keane accepting the transfer to Inter was questioned on all fronts as virtually every Premier League and Irish pundit had their say. Conventional wisdom being that Keane had moved to Italy too early in his fledgling career.
In the end it looked like the pundits were right as he returned home to Dave O'Leary's title chasing Leeds United after just four months. However, the truth was very different.
Lippi was under increasing pressure from Massimo Morati, Inter's owner, after they were knocked out of the Champions League at the qualifying stage by Helsingborg. They then lost their opening match of the Serie A season to lowly Reggina and Morati decided to axe the legendary manager and replace him with the untried Marco Tardelli who had just guided the Italian U21's to European success.
Keane had just began to eke out an understanding of Inter's style of play as Lippi had made the youngster an essential part of his plans and saw him as a vital cog in the future of his team.
This inclusion by Lippi was no small statement as Inter possessed some phenomenal talents at the time. Players like, Christian Vieri, Ronaldo, Hakan Sukur, Ivan Zamarano, and Alvaro Recoba were all chief rivals to the slight 20-year-old from Tallaght.
However, despite a goal after just two minutes against Lazio in the SuperCopa Italia, Marco Tardelli decided that Keane was just not going to be part of his plans. Right from the start of the new regime Keane was basically ostracised.
Armed with the knowledge that he was never going to be part of his managers plans, the Irishman chose to return home to Leeds.
It is now one of the great questions about both Tardelli's and Keane's careers that their futures may have worked out differently if their working relationship had been better. Keane's time at Inter was short-lived with only three goals to show from just 14 games. (1 : 4.6)
Also, in an ironic twist in February 2008, Tardelli became Assistant Manager to Giovani Trappatoni when the former Italian boss was appointed Ireland manager. Like true professionals who recognise the game for what it is and how simple opinions can shape destinies, Keane and Tardelli have since forged a superb working relationship.
Leeds' 2000-'01 season, from a point of offering so much, was looking like going belly up before Keane joined the club in late December. His addition to the squad seemed to rejuvenate the club almost immediately.
Before his first start, Leeds had only won nine games from 22, including just three wins from the previous 13. Keane helped turn that around as he waded in with nine goals from 18 matches and from the time he made his first start against Middlesbrough, Leeds only lost twice from the next 18 games and rocketed from 13th to 4th in the table.
Unfortunately, in 2001 a 4th placed finish in the Premier League could only guarantee UEFA Cup football and Leeds having tasted success, in the Champions League, wanted more.
Despite losing to Valencia in the semi-finals of the Champions League and having just missed out on the competition for successive seasons, Leeds decided to gamble yet again as O'Leary spent another £18 million to bring their spending to an staggering £93 million in just four seasons since 1998.
Robbie Fowler fresh from his battles with Gerard Houillier at Liverpool, was added to an already packed forward line and, quite remarkably, Robbie Keane found himself falling down the pecking order.
Without game time, his form dipped from 9 goals from 18 matches to 9 in 33 and just three games into the following season he was sold to Spurs to help aid the financial difficulties of the Yorkshire club. His goals for games rate at Elland Road had improved from his time at Inter though to 1 : 2.9.
The one respite during this poor period at Leeds for Keane was international football.
He scored seven goals in 15 games during this period for Ireland including three goals in four games as Ireland crashed out of the 2002 World Cup to Spain on penalties in the Last-16.
In scoring in three games in a row in Japan, Keane became only the 10th player to achieve the feat in World Cup history. In doing so he joined the likes of Pele, Jairzinho, Ronaldo, Eusebio and Mario Kempes amongst others.
Tottenham Hotspur would become Keane's fifth club in just six years - he was still only 22 years of age - and White Hart Lane became a home for the travelling Irishman for the next six seasons.
Initially under Glenn Hoddle, his time at Spurs started well. In a side that was listing badly, Keane became the one constant that fans could look to as the club struggled to cope with expectation whilst dealing with life in the middle reaches of the league.
From the fans point of view; Spurs were a sleeping giant but in reality they were a mid-table club who weren't particularly run well and for players such as Keane, expectations weren't high and were certainly no where near the levels expected of a club in the higher reaches of the league.
Despite all this, and with Hoddle being replaced by Jacques Santini and just 13 games later Martin Jol, Keane would become Tottenham's top scorer for the third season in a row. Yet somehow he found himself being taken for granted yet again and being relegated to fourth choice striker behind Jermain Defoe, Mido and Frederic Kanoute.
Jol started off the 2005-'06 season with Defoe and Mido whilst selling Kanoute to Sevilla, with Keane the odd man out yet again. The giant Dutchman had decided that the Irish striker was no longer part of his plans and made him train with the reserves while letting every EPL team know that he was available for transfer.
Spurs wanted around £12 million, for the player but there were little or no offers as life in the shadows began to play with his confidence.
It was international football for Ireland, once again, that would lift Keane from the doldrums of little or no club football. Since joining Spurs, his output for Ireland improved from 14/38 to 24/57. It was this impressive form for his country that would make Jol stand back and reassess the player.
Instead of selling him, Jol was forced to drop Defoe as his form dipped badly and Keane found himself in a new partnership with Mido. The new strike force hit it off almost immediately as both reached double figures with Keane, once again, finishing as the clubs highest scorer for the fourth season in a row.
Jol ended up being so impressed with Keane's professionalism, honesty, and decision not to play his troubles out in the media, that not only was his faith restored in the striker but he went one step further by making him vice-captain of the club.
This move by Jol is not without significance.
Ledley King's chronic injury problems are well documented during that particular period are well documented and by making Keane vice-captain Jol was basically issuing a statement that Keane was now one of the first names on his team sheet.
The season ended on a miserable note for Spurs and Keane though. On the eve of their last game of the season against West Ham, and after holding onto 4th place for the previous 23 weeks running, the entire Tottenham Hotspur first team were struck down with gastroenteritis. The end result was a last day loss to the Hammers and Arsenal overtaking Spurs into 4th.
The following season after literally hitting the crossbar of Champions League qualification, Spurs would push on yet again and Keane was paired with Dimitar Berbatov despite the two players sharing many of the same qualities. Their partnership blossomed into one of the most effective in the Premier League.
Keane went on to become only the 13th player to score 100 goals in the Premier League and was then rewarded with a new five-year contract for his endeavours. During the same period, Keane also became the first Premier League striker to hit double figures six seasons in a row. Once again, all of this was achieved while turmoil reigned off the pitch. Martin Jol was sacked from the bench during Spurs' 2-1 loss to Getafe and replaced by Juande Ramos just a few days later.
The same season he also won the very first trophy of his career when Spurs beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final.
The 2007/08 season was a hugely successful one for Keane. Not only did he win his first major trophy but he also picked up the Spurs Player of the Year award for the third time, making him the only player in the clubs history to achieve the feat.
With Keane and Berbatov up top, having claimed their first trophy in nine years, and with a growing belief amongst the players, Spurs was expected to challenge for the top four the following season. But some teams had other ideas.
Liverpool and Manchester United courted Keane and Berbatov respectively and the pair were sold for a combined fee of almost £51 million as the transfer window closed. Their sales effectively crippled Ramos and the team and by October the Spaniard was replaced by Harry Redknapp.
Keane's move to Anfield came about after the Irishman met Phil Thompson at an after match dinner and within hours Liverpool and Rafael Benitez were looking at possible ways to bring him to Anfield.
The major spanner in the works was that Gareth Barry was Rafa's first choice signing and having limited funds to spend he wanted to sign the midfielder first. A major problem arose when Aston Villa demanded £18 million for the player when Liverpool and Rick Parry would only go as far as £15 million plus Steve Finnan.
With Parry in charge of negotiations and the purse strings and in receipt of Benitez's proposed shopping list, he next approached Robbie Keane.
A protracted transfer saga where Spurs made claims against the Reds tapping up the player ended in late July when Keane signed on the dotted line and in doing so he was handed the famous No. 7.
When Keane's time at Liverpool is analysed it is clear that he did not enjoy the best of times nor did he do himself justice.
He started 23 games of his 34 games in red (including friendlies), but only completed the 90 in five of those. His first goal for Liverpool came after a disappointing 11 games and overall his competitive record reads played 28, scored 7 (1 : 4).
From these simple stats you can see that he was always looking over his shoulder to be taken off and as time progressed it became apparent to all that Rafael Benitez was waging a war behind the scenes at Anfield against Rick Parry, and that Robbie Keane was the stick he used to beat him with.
Keane has always been a player who relies heavily on confidence and while it is fair to say that he never reached the heights expected of him at Liverpool, it is also fair to say that he was also never allowed to reach those heights.
His career, already at a low, hit the lowest point possible when Benitez dropped him from the FA Cup squad to face Merseyside rivals Everton. It was clear to everyone that Keane was unwanted at Liverpool.
The sudden injury to Jermain Defoe, a recent re-signing for Harry Redknapp at Spurs, opened up a position that needed to be filled immediately if the Lilywhites were to maintain their early progress under their new manager.
From there the negotiation were easy, and within six months of leaving White Hart Lane Robbie Keane was back.
Redknapp immediately restored Keane to his previous role of vice-captain and his return, while he kept the impetus moving in the right direction, he could only guide his new club to eighth. However, Spurs' final finishing position was to prove to be a huge advantage. Without European football to contend with they mounted a concerted challenge for the Promised Land that is the Champions League.
This was to prove a problem for Keane who was moved onto Celtic just six months after returning.
During the close season, Harry Redknapp signed Peter Crouch and partnered him up front with Jermain Defoe. This new forward line gave Spurs a very defined way of playing that relied upon swift attacks and the two strikers playing as high as possible.
Keane, just simply did not fit in with Redknapp's philosophy or tactics. He likes to drop off and instigate attacks and play a part in the build up whereas both Defoe and Crouch are entirely focused on the penalty box.
On top of not playing, Keane then organised a Christmas trip to Dublin for the Spurs team without his Redknapp's knowledge and just days after his manager had gone public stating that his players would not be having a party.
This was to prove a major stumbling block in their relationship and with the trust between them seemingly broken, Keane found himself out in the cold at Spurs.
Seeing that he was not going to play, Keane's form dipped to its lowest level, 11 goals from 41 games (1 : 4) and rumours of a further breakdown in communication between the player and a manager began to surface. Having enjoyed something of a miserable 12 months few Premier League teams were willing to take a chance on the player so the striker moved north of the border to Celtic in February 2010.
There, he scored 12 goals from 16 games but it was not enough to see the Celts overtake Rangers who went on to win the league.
Keane was now in the middle of his worst period as a footballer. Assailed from all sides, both at home and in England his form and confidence hit their lowest ebb.
However, as always, somehow Giovani Trappatoni always seemed to bring the best out of his captain and without doubt Ireland offered respite from club football. His goal scoring record for his country kept on course and in the time since Trap had taken over (32/79) Keane's record read 43 goals from 99 matches.
He returned back to Spurs who had just qualified for the Champions League for the first time having slipped down the pecking order considerably. The moved even further down the ladder when Rafael van der Vaart joined the club from Real Madrid.
As the Dutchman was more midfielder than forward, he was able to slot perfectly into the position that Keane craved so much, the link behind the striker and once again he was surplus to requirements and was only used sparingly before he moved to relegation struggler's West Ham.
The move started well with a début goal. But less than one week later he got injured and was forced to miss the next month of action and with it his fitness dropped considerably.
With West Ham suffering the ignominy of relegation, the proposed permanent transfer of Keane to the Hammers never materialised. From his nine games involved at Upton Park, he only finished two, and he only managed to score one other goal and that came in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa. (1 : 4.5)
Keane has since returned to Spurs, somewhat with his tail between his legs, but that has not stopped him from continuing his phenomenal international goal scoring record. In 2011, during his time at West Ham, he scored a superb six goals in four games to bring his international tally into record waters 51/108.
In the last of these games in June, Keane played on with pain killing injections for a damaged groin that had never fully recovered from the initial tear in February and still managed to score twice and inspire his team to a vital win. One other little record was achieved that night as he joined Jurgen Klinnsmann, Bobby Moore, and Zinedine Zidane on 108 caps.
When you stand back and look at Keane's achievements you can't help but be impressed. No, he is no Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes and cannot boast about his trophy haul. Nor is he anything like Matthew Le Tissier who never won anything but is revered in every football conversation that whispers his name.
But in some ways he is more than they are. Keane in many ways is boxer like in his career.
He is not a great footballer, he would never worry the very best of defenders, nor is he a creative genius in the mould of Rafael van der Vaart or Teddy Sheringham, and neither is he the best footballer his country has ever produced.
But one thing he has in world class amounts is honesty.
Honesty is something fans do not concern themselves with. It is hard to measure, hard to understand, and even harder to see. But it is something that every professional respects profoundly.
However, one look at Robbie Keane's career and the one facet of his personality that stands out is his honesty. He never gives up, he never quits, and he always tries his hardest.
Sure, some pundits may point back to him choosing Wolves over Liverpool as the pivotal moment in his career. Had he chosen the Reds one wonders if the obvious rough edges to his game would have been shaved off. Would he have turned into a better player? Would he have formed a fearsome partnership with Michael Owen? Would he have scored 51 times in 108 games for Ireland?
Ifs buts and maybes.
Keane is good player and a better pro. And for this reason he is taken for granted so often. Whereas players with better skills and lesser attitudes moan and groan and make things public, he prefers to weather the frequent storms and win managers and fans over with honest performances.
He might not be flavour of the month at Tottenham Hotspur any more and he may never play again at White Hart Lane, but he will step into any breach if Harry Redknapp was to come calling.
His future, most probably, lies away from Spurs. And while some managers may focus on the last two years of his club career and decide to give him a wide berth they may be better served taking a closer look at his overall career to see that he can still make a telling contribution to the game at the highest level.
As unlikely as it seems now, Spurs may yet hold onto Keane next season. His rich past ensures that he will be mentioned in boardrooms up and down the Premier League but It would come as no surprise to see him move across London to join Fulham and their new manager, Martin Jol.
At 30, and with the style of footballer that he is, Keane could yet have another four or five seasons as a Premier League footballer left in him. Will someone take a chance on him? Or will he be taken for granted and left on the shelf?
Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Keane won't go down without a fight.