Robbie Keane believes it’s make your mind up time for Stephen Ireland, as a new era for Irish football begins to take shape.
He also says he accepts that his own position as an automatic starter is no longer guaranteed under the Republic’s new management.
The Ireland skipper and record goalscorer is convinced that, under the management of Martin O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane, the days of player prevarication and complaint will be consigned to the past.
In that far off era of Irish football before the appointment of O’Neill and Keane — we’re talking a whole month ago now, when the hunt for a successor to Giovanni Trapattoni was still ongoing — Keane chose not to mince his words when he declared that what was needed in a new Ireland manager was someone “with balls”, someone who “wouldn’t take any crap”.
You won’t find many who will dispute the suggestion that Ireland now have that, at the double, not least the captain himself who, yesterday in Dublin, said that what he had in mind when he made those remarks were players failing to answer a squad call-up and players belly-aching when they did show up but were not selected to play.
“Them two definitely and a lot of other stuff as well,” he said. “You’ve got two big, strong characters in now and I don’t think you’re going to get too many people pulling out of squads again.”
Conceding that “it happened a lot,” during his time with Ireland, Keane added: “I’ve got a problem if people don’t want to play for their country. I just can’t understand that. I’ve said it over the years. I just can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to pull that green jersey on. I just don’t get it.
“But what can you do? You can’t really do much. At the end of the day it’s the manager’s choice if he wants to pick a player or bring him back. As players, if they come back into the fold, you have to get on with it and welcome them again if you like. It’s very hard. You can’t hold grudges against people like that. I’m not that kind of person anyway.”
Keane was asked if he had said anything to Darron Gibson on the Everton player’s return last month after his self-imposed international exile?
“I think a few of the lads would probably say something in a joking way. But what are you going to do? Sit down with him and say ‘what the f*** are you doing?’ It’s his choice. What can you say? Whether I agree or disagree, everyone has their own views on it. It was his choice, but there’s new management now, and he was brought back in. Will that happen again? I’m not too sure.”
Should the same open-arms welcome be afforded Stephen Ireland (pictured)? “I don’t know. It’s not my call. Again, it’s new. They’ll probably want all of the best players available, players who are playing on a regular basis. So of course they have to be open-minded about it but, ultimately, if someone doesn’t want to come, what can you do? If they want to come, that’s fine: make a decision on whether you want to come or not and then stick to that decision, instead of ‘maybe I’ll come, I don’t know’. I’m not just talking about Stephen, I’m talking in general.”
Asked if he thought there’d be less of this kind of thing under the new regime, Keane offered a knowing smile and said: “I’d imagine so.”
A readiness to accept demotion is something Keane says he also prepared to apply to himself. Though the man capped 131 times is determined to play for his country for as long as possible, he says he may have to accept that, as a 33-year-old striker — even if a record-breaking one — his days as an automatic starter could be numbered.
“100%, I have to be realistic,” he said. “Ultimately you’re judged on your performance, aren’t you? If you look at the last couple of years, the amount of goals I’ve scored for Ireland since I went to America, I’ve probably scored more since I’ve been with LA Galaxy than I had previous to that. Travelling or anything like that is not affecting me. But, certainly if the manager comes and for certain games picks certain players and systems, and if I don’t fit into that system, that’s no problem for me.
“But if the manager pulls me aside, I’m experienced enough now to realise the most important thing is the team, it’s not an individual. If that was the case, it would certainly be no problem. The country comes first. Whatever is best for the country for me that’s the most valuable thing.”
Keane, who plans to start taking his coaching badges in January, said he “dreads” the thought of having to hang up his boots, but hopes that day won’t come for a few years yet.
Immediately on his agenda, however, is a consultation with a specialist in London on Monday which will almost certainly result in surgery later next week to resolve a recurring Achilles problem. (Asked if there was ever a chance of his seeing action in Poznan last Tuesday night, he replied that he was ready if needed but added with a grin: “I was quite happy not to, with that pitch. I wish it was like that when we were playing Croatia and Italy in the summer. We would have had a chance then”).
After what is expected to be a three-week recovery period following the surgery, Keane is looking forward to the rare luxury of a hometown Christmas with his family at their new house in Dublin.
Skipper wants ban on tweets in Irish camp
Robbie Keane believes there should be a complete ban on players tweeting from inside the Irish camp.
In the light of Martin O’Neill expressing concerns about James McClean tweeting, and hinting there should at least be a match day ban on players letting their fingers do the talking, Keane would go even further.
“There has to be common sense, just use your head,” said the Irish captain and LA Galaxy striker. “If you start tweeting about something got to do with the game then, from the manager’s point of view, I imagine it must be frustrating. I think it should be a 10-day ban. As soon as you walk in that door you shouldn’t be tweeting.
“I can’t understand it. My missus is on it, telling everybody what we’re doing — I just don’t get it. You’re trying to hide and you’re telling people, ‘oh, I’m just having a coffee’ and then you don’t understand why people turn up.”
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