Monday, March 06, 2006

Spurs and Ireland Reap Benefit of Keane's New Edge.

If Robbie Keane is one of those footballers who cuts out all his press clippings and compiles them in a scrapbook (as I recall Tony Cottee revealing he did in a late 1980s edition of Saint and Greavsie), then, very possibly, the first week of March, 2006, will have a whole volume dedicated to it.

First, there was the honour of being named as Ireland's new captain, which he celebrated with a fine goal and performance in a handsome friendly victory over Sweden. Then he returned to London to be awarded a new four-year contract with Spurs, an achievement he toasted by delivering a brace of goals and playing a crucial role in the third which gave Spurs an undeserved victory over Blackburn Rovers.

Any satisfaction that Keane might feel about his successful week can only be heightened if he looks back on his fortunes over the last year or so. The Dubliner was a permanent fixture of last summer's transfer tittle-tattle, with Everton, Newcastle and Celtic whispered to have made inquiries about his services. The inference was clear: Keane was going to be on his way again, a saleable asset at another club at which he had failed to make himself indispensable.

It was the great curiosity about Ireland's gifted number 10. Tottenham Hotspur were his fifth senior club when he joined them at the age of only 22, and it was hoped that in London he could finally find the settled environment in which his talents could thrive. In fairness, the move to Inter Milan came too early in his career to be a real success, and Leeds' financial meltdown contributed to his exit from Elland Road. However, he had slipped down the pecking order there, and the impression had begun to be formed of a flaky, unfocused talent, whose true worth, it seemed, would be lost.

His association with Tottenham was somewhat appropriate, given that club's similar reputation for flattering to deceive. He was the club's player of the year in his first two seasons, but by last season, the familiar malady had struck again. Keane appeared to be slipping down a striking pecking order which contained Jermaine Defoe, Mido and Fredi Kanoute, and, while his talents were always recognised, it was felt that once again he would be moved on: not good enough to start every game, too valuable to leave on the bench.

Whether his club travails had begun to influence his international form, or whether Ireland's stumbling World Cup qualifying campaign had taken the edge of his performances at Spurs it is difficult to tell, however Keane's reputation at home was not at its highest either. While only Shay Given emerged from Ireland's most recent campaign with credit, Keane, as one of the squad's few genuine top class players, bore more than the usual brunt of criticism for the national team's failure, particularly his lack of goals. His standing was not helped by his being spotted in a Dublin nightclub days before the home match against France, and the subsequent surliness of his reaction to the revelations.

As it turned out, Kanoute, not Keane, was sold last summer, Defoe's progression has stuttered and Keane seized his opportunity. Not only have his performances as a striker earned him his starting place, but he has displayed hitherto unsuspected leadership qualities in a young Spurs side, to such an extent that he has been named as the club's vice-captain by his manager, Martin Jol.

His two goals yesterday (both were dubious - the virtuoso first resulted from a wrongly awarded throw in, the second from a Keane handball) preceded a period of Blackburn dominance which was total, and led to a deserved equaliser from Craig Bellamy in 67 minutes. Only three minutes later, Keane seized possession in the Blackburn half and sent away Aaron Lennon to cross for Mido's winner. It was a heroic performance by the Irishman and his inspiration was the difference between the two teams.

Similarly with the Irish team: last Wednesday night, and in the lead up to the Sweden game, he fully performed his role as captain and demonstrated a maturity which Steve Staunton's new regime will greatly need if his young squad is to be successful.

Robbie Keane's great week was no coincidence. It would seem that the tricky, gifted ball player from Tallaght has grown up, and his new found maturity is paying rich dividends for his club, and hopefully, will do for his country.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keano is the best!!! go Keano! go Keano! COYS!

2:52 p.m.  
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1:19 p.m.  

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