O'Neill: play on as long as possible, Robbie

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill has urged skipper Robbie Keane to play on as long as he can before heading into coaching.

The 33-year-old has signalled his intention to stay in the game once his playing days are over, and hopes to gain the relevant qualifications over the next few years.

However, O’Neill, who will send Keane out at the head of his team for the first time when they face Latvia in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium on Friday evening, is advising him to wring every last second out of his career.

He said: “If he wants to look like me, I would dissuade him from doing his coaching badges and getting into management.

“Play as long as you can, play until you’re 64 and then think about management.”

Keane has spoken on more than one occasion in recent months of his coaching ambitions, and that is something he will attempt to further in the near future.

He said: “Yes, of course, it’s certainly something that I’m looking to – but it’s first and foremost to play as long as I can, obviously.

“I wish I had have done the badges a few years ago, and that’s the reason I’m doing it, because it’s something that down the road I would like to get in to.

“But this January, I’m speaking to the FAI [Football Association of Ireland] about doing something and if it worked out I’d like to do it.

“But that’s not just because in the next year or so, I feel I’ll become a coach, far from it.”

Keane is the Republic’s record caps winner and goalscorer having found the back of the net 61 times in 130 senior appearances for his country, a record O’Neill described as “remarkable”.

He said: “He’s a natural goalscorer. That international record is fantastic, really, really fantastic.

“I’d prefer him not to be sitting here while I’m telling you that, but it’s really brilliant.

“If you look at some of the other players who have played international football for reputedly better teams than the Republic of Ireland whose record is nowhere like that, his record is remarkable, really remarkable.

“Naturally I would have liked to have had in my time here a 23-year-old Robbie Keane instead of a 64-year-old Robbie Keane.

“That’s a problem, but outside that, yes, it’s a fantastic record.”

O’Neill has retained Keane as his captain for the time being and has no immediate plans for a rethink on that situation.

He said: “Robbie’s been the captain of the team and from the manner in which the players are enthused by it, I didn’t see any reason whatsoever to change it.

“If he’s playing brilliantly and scoring goals for us, I’ll be absolutely delighted. And if he says, listen I want to enjoy it – I want to relinquish the captaincy, but I want to enjoy playing, as some players have done, sometimes the captaincy overall can be a wee bit too much for them – I will listen to that.

“But that’s not anything that he’s said at this minute.”

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