Saturday 22 October 2016

Retiring is the hardest call for Robbie

Reflective Keane ponders future as a Gaffer when he quits playing

Robbie Keane is pictured during a press conference ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against Oman - his final game for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Keane is pictured during a press conference ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against Oman - his final game for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

This is hard for Robbie Keane, maybe the hardest thing he has ever had to do. Retiring from international football is just another step down the road to quitting for good and he put it off as long as he could.

He sat with us out in Abbotstown yesterday, the first time in a long time we've had an informal chat.

Usually, he sits beside the manager for the final press conference the day before a game which is rarely an environment for opening up.

He wanted to talk and crack a few jokes. Even shake a few hands. The pressure is gone now, the expectation removed and he could be himself.

It was odd to think that we would never do this again. Everyone in the room has written about him for two decades.


There have been prickly moments along the way, times when Robbie didn't like us and we weren't too fond of him either.


But we all learn and just as many of his critics came to understand how valuable Robbie Keane has been for Ireland, he admitted a similar moment of clarity when he became the team captain, for him, the defining moment in his career.

"I was 26 when I was made captain and it was a defining moment because it made me aware that there are things you have to do," he said.

Those things involved the media a great deal and the process of realisation was completed in America.

"America has a very strange way of working the media. It's all very relaxed. The realisation hit me over there that, actually you lads are alright," he said to guffaws.

This may seem like a minor thing but it is not. The fact that he wants to include everyone in his send-off, even hacks, is more evidence that he has changed and matured over the years.

What used to be brash and occasionally abrasive has softened and with that has come the full affection of the nation, something which was at issue before Steve Staunton gave him the armband.

He has always had kind words for Stan as a result but the first man he rang after announcing his retirement last week was Mick McCarthy.

"I rang Mick. He gave me the chance. I was a 17-year-old kid. You don't see that any more. Most people make their débuts at 22, 23, I was 17-year-old kid and he took a chance on me," he said.


"So he was the first person I called, the only person I called, just to thank him. He set the ball rolling. I will always be very, very grateful."

Robbie is worried about the coming years and wonders whether a Premier League manager will take another chance on an Irish teenager.

"Can I see it happening for a while? I'd like it to happen. At the moment, the English team is the same as well, England, Scotland, Ireland, the next few years is going to be a problem because players like myself, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne, Shay Given - players who broke through young - that is not really happening any more.

"There are a lot of players now playing in the Championship and it is going to be hard for them because of the number of foreign signings that clubs have made. So it is going to be very, very difficult for Irish players to go and play in the Premiership and be a starter. That will be a big problem. How you change it I just don't know."

If all goes to plan, Keane himself might yet be the man to solve the problem himself if a career in management works out. Whether this begins in America or nearer home remains to be seen.

"People ask me this question all the time. It's very hard to say. I want to be a coach or a manager in the States or England might call for me. I don't know," he said.

"It's almost like being a footballer again, waiting for an opportunity to go somewhere where you're valued or you really want to go. I genuinely couldn't answer that, I don't know," added Ireland's captain.

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