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Opinion: Tainted Love - Robbies battle with loyalty

Opinion: Tainted Love - Robbies battle with loyalty

Fuck, I’ll never forget it.

92 minutes on the clock. Ibaraki Stadium. A stomach still full of that naïve belief we all know too well. McCarthy’s mandate was to be in the game with ten to go, and from there “you never know”. That favourite saying of sporting underdogs. A saying that has never known a friend like Robbie Keane.

At that very moment, if there were keys to our country, they were Robbie’s. No sporting second in our footballing history has caused such elation. Sure, we’ve had massive moments, but a goal of such magnitude, at the final whistle, when you know there’s no time left for us to lose it, brings out not a ‘it could be one of those days’ type celebration, but one we rarely get to experience in Irish sport – that of brute, confident, already-stamped, cocky, madness.

67 international goals to his name.  1 less than Gerd Müller.  5 more than Zlatan and the Brazilian Ronaldo.  12 more than Romario.  With an international goal to game ratio on par with Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

A legend of not only Ireland, but of the international game.

But where’s the adoration? Respect, sure. Great respect, even. But at the level his achievements would suggest? No chance. Is it therefore possibly the case that we’re seeing a player taint his own legacy by possessing and showing the trait that apparently all fans in modern day football seek?

Loyalty.

During his Irish career, two dates stick out for not-so-good reasons – 6th June 2001, and 14th November, 2014 - the two times Keane was dropped. The first being away to Estonia when Mick McCarthy chose a horrific front six of Carr, Kinsella, Kilbane, Holland, Duffer, and Quinn. The second when O’Neill moved to a 4-5-1 formation versus the Scots.

Both were met with very contrasting media reactions.

In 2001, mere days after his £12M move to Leeds was made permanent, McCarthy was lambasted - we won, 2-0. 13 years later, O’Neill was applauded for finally moving away from Trapattoni’s rigid 4-4-2 at the expense of Keane - we lost, 1-0.

But even after that loss - one of the most depressing results of O’Neill’s reign – the little ray of light travelling amongst Irish fans was the fact that our manager had finally understood what his predecessor never could; that picking Keane, weakened us. He just didn’t “have the legs to play up top on his own”, and our “midfield wasn’t strong enough to uphold itself with only four men”.

But Robbie was never going to give up. He loved playing for Ireland. And even though he had threatened to walk if he lost his place, there was no question that he’d show if he was asked.

On the surface, that seems like a reasonable enough attitude to have. After all, the saying “never turn your back on your country” seems to resonate down Lansdowne Road more than anywhere else – entrenched since Saipan, and the hate-affair Irish fans continue to have with Stephen Ireland, and more recently, England’s finest, Jack Grealish.

But what is not appreciated about this is the act of incredible unselfishness for a player of his stature.

Even though he was in LA, he saw the headlines. He got the Facebook messages (just imagine what must go through a guys head who has done so much for Irish football to be ranted at by some 16 year old…. “retire, you’re shit”).  Had Robbie thrown the hat in at the same time in his career as say, Duffer – or, God-forbid, we cross the sporting divide to rugby and cite Brian O’Driscoll – he would have avoided those last 3-4 years of fans sighing, and the media criticising.

And all for what?  A slightly healthier air-mile status?

When he came on against Sweden in Paris this summer, I fixed my eyes on him for a couple of moments as he struggled to chase down Swedish defenders and realised something:

I was disappointed for Robbie Keane.

Why was I sitting here, amongst tens of thousands of others, almost 18 years after he started scoring goals for us, expecting more from him? Judging him on what he delivers today.  Completely void of the near-tears he brought us to in Paris, Ibaraki, Suwon, Bari, Nicosia, Amsterdam – not to mention Dublin.

Because we, as fans, don’t put the same value on loyalty as we say we do.  We certainly don’t put the same value on it as a player like Keane, himself, sacrifices with his legacy in return. We’re coded to care only about today – the social media generation.

His legacy was made concrete in Ibaraki. Became historic in 2006 when he became our top goal-scorer, and painted gold in 2013 when he became our most capped. But Twitter, like that 16 year old, only cares about today.

But just for this once, as the floodlights of the Aviva glisten down on our number 10 for one last time, how about you put your phone away and remind yourself of the last time we’ve seen someone sacrifice so much for the sake of loyalty to our nation? Not just in sport, but in any walk of life.

Then remind yourself that this will be the last.

Robbie Keane. Our greatest servant.

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