Robbie Keane cements his place amongst international greats

Robbie Keane has been Ireland’s record goalscorer for some time now, having overtaken Niall Quinn’s 21 goal milestone as far back as October 2004. His two goals in Skopje at the weekend, as Ireland defeated Macedonia 2-0, elevated Keane to an entirely new stratosphere, beyond Bobby Charlton and in amongst international football royalty.

Having scored 51 times in 108 appearances for the Republic of Ireland, Keane moves ahead of the likes of Didier Drogba in the international goalscoring charts and nestles neatly alongside Hakan Sukur and Thierry Henry – he is in elite company. The calibre of player that remains ahead of Keane include such luminaries as Gabriel Batistuta, Gerd Muller, Pele and Ferenc Puskas, approaching his 31st birthday and still integral to the Ireland side, you wouldn’t bet against him racking up more goals and claiming a few more scalps in the next few years.

Keane progressed through Ireland’s Under-16 and Under-18 European championship winning sides under the stewardship of Brian Kerr in the late 1990’s. He went on to make his senior debut against the Czech Republic in March 1998, netting his first goal the following October against Malta. Keane’s only appearance in a major senior tournament was the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, where he excelled, scoring three times in Ireland’s four games, including a last minute penalty to force extra time in their last 16 tie with Spain, that the Irish eventually lost 3-2 on penalties. Ireland’s failure to qualify for the following World Cup in 2006 cost Keane’s former youth mentor Kerr his job, his replacement was former team mate Steve Staunton, who made Keane his captain, a role he has now held for a record number of appearances.

The Republic bid farewell to Lansdowne Road with a Robbie Keane hat trick in a 5-0 win against Cyprus in November 2006, he then led Ireland to a second placed finish in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, scoring five times in ten games. His 41st goal, 26th in competitive fixtures, arrived in the controversial play-off defeat to France and his 100th cap came in a friendly defeat to Argentina in August 2010. Keane scored three in the recent inaugural Carling Nations Cup, finishing top scorer, he missed Tuesday’s friendly with France having picked up a groin injury in the Macedonia match.

In contrast to his international fortunes, Keane’s club career is at a crossroads at present, having moved 10 times in 14 years, another move is on the cards this summer. His next destination is likely to be of a far less glamorous calibre than the likes of former employers Inter Milan and Liverpool. His performances are becoming increasingly erratic at domestic level, despite his continued prowess in Irish colours, as his powers wane with age. His recent loan spell at West Ham was blighted by injury and did nothing to attract potential suitors or persuade Harry Redknapp that he has a future at Spurs. On big wages, his options may prove to be limited, although you wouldn’t bet against him finding his groove if given the right opportunity, the kind of opportunity he continues to enjoy as catalyst and captain of his country.

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