Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating those special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to a hard-working goal-machine.
One centre-back passes to another and how often do we see the opposing forward make a token gesture to close the pass down. He knows it is a futile gesture. More so, he knows the very reason the defence is knocking it around is to gradually erode his team’s sharpness and maybe, as a bonus, pull them out of shape. So he ambles. He trots. He does the same postured movement you or I do when just missing a bus and there are people watching.
Robbie Keane never postured. He certainly never ambled. Not for any of his eleven clubs or for Ireland. Not for a single minute of his 805 professional appearances over a 21 year career. If the ball resided in the final third then Robbie Keane foraged for it. He fracked. He chased down lost causes with the same intensity of a puppy believing it was his to keep if procured. The fans loved him for that and much, much more.
Much of the much, much more entailed goals. All told the Dubliner plundered 125 Premier League goals. Only thirteen strikers have scored more in the English top flight. Only sixteen players have ever scored more for their international sides, an exclusive number that includes Pele, Puskas and Ronaldo. Simply put, we haven’t seen many better players of his type in our lifetime.
Keane’s rare skillsets were apparent right from the off. As a raw 16-year-old at Wolves he was promoted into the first team squad and so impressive was he on a pre-season tour the club got him to sign three different contracts in three months, each more iron-clad than the last. In the summer of 1999, after finishing the preceding season as Wolves’ leading goal-scorer, he became the most expensive ever teenager signing to Coventry for £6m. It was not the first time that one of his transfers broke records and multi millions were invested in him during an era when fees were a fraction of what they are today.
Only a single campaign was spent at Highfield Road before his explosive pace and lethal eye for goal attracted the attention of big-spending Inter Milan, who already boasted a forward stable of Alvaro Recoba, Christian Vieri, Hakan Suker and the original and best Ronaldo but what the hell, there’s always room for more. Understandably – perhaps even inevitably – Keane struggled to make a significant impact in Serie A ahead of this elite quartet so it was swiftly off to Leeds where again he toiled only this time largely due to the Yorkshire club slowly imploding from over-ambition.
Just as it looked possible that this gifted young marksman might not ultimately reach the heights expected of him Tottenham came to his rescue, offering him an arena in White Hart Lane in which he consistently shone alongside an array of clever partners – Sheringham, Mido – who benefited hugely in turn from Keane’s high-intensity endeavour and piercing movement. An average of a goal every 2.4 games over six seasons followed. In 2006 Inter owner Massimo Moratti publicly admitted his regret at letting the now flourishing star to leave. Sometimes it is just about timing.
All of which prompted Liverpool to swoop in July 2008 and how could this distant relative of Morrissey (Keane’s grandfather was the former Smiths’ singer’s second cousin) refuse a move to the club his idolised as a boy. Sadly though a lack of opportunities at Anfield soon saw him return to north London with Fernando Torres immovable and Rafa Benitez stubbornly intent on curtailing Keane’s propensity to drop deep and play off the leading man.
That was to be the Irish forward’s last disappointment however. Back at Spurs he blitzed bewildered back-lines for fun and later for LA Galaxy he did the same. The fans loved him for that.
So onto his slice of genius that aptly took place at the Lane and for a bonus point made Robbie Savage look like a mug. The date is March 5th 2006 and Tottenham are enjoying a successful season that eventually sees them finish fifth. The visitors Blackburn equally hold European aspirations and by May join Spurs in qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
It is 0-0 with only nine minutes played and Mido takes a throw-in on the right hand side almost by the corner flag. Keane races into space on the edge of the box but Savage is alert too and shadows him. The ball bounces ahead of the striker who can feel the poodle-haired midfielder breathing down his neck.
With his back to goal, Keane flicks the ball over the startled Welshman and spins in the same motion. Now he has sight of goal – though the angle is tight – and the ball is sitting up perfectly at knee-height. Brad Friedel in nets braces himself.
Across comes Andy Todd. So certain is he that Keane will drill one at full pelt that he hurls himself in the way of a shot that doesn’t come. Instead the striker cutely flicks the ball again, this time to his left, away from danger.
Now he can shoot. Now he does. A split-second later the ball is thudding into the far corner of Freidel’s goal.
“Sensational,” proclaims Martin Tyler, his voice growling through several octaves for the use of a single word. The BBC meanwhile described it later as a ‘wonder to behold’.
On his day that pretty much summed up Robbie Keane to a tee.