Dublin (AFP) – Robbie Keane faces a race against time to prove his fitness as the Republic of Ireland’s record goal-scorer eyes a glorious last hurrah at Euro 2016.
Keane missed Ireland’s two friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia in March after being forced to withdraw from the squad with a knee injury suffered while playing for LA Galaxy.
Republic manager Martin O’Neill was initially uncertain how severe the problem was, but Keane eventually underwent orthoscopic surgery on his right knee in California at the start of April.
The 35-year-old forward was expected to be sidelined for up to six weeks, leaving him with precious little game-time before the tournament in France, and a calf injury subsequently ruled him out of warm-up games against the Netherlands and Belarus.
However, Keane’s value to Ireland remains immense even in the twilight of his career. O’Neill has selected the former Liverpool and Tottenham star in the hope he can show he is fully recovered in time for his country’s opening group game on June 13.
While Keane’s lack of football in advance of the tournament may be a concern for O’Neill, there is little chance O’Neill will turn his back on a player with a record 143 caps and 67 goals for Ireland.
Keane is almost certain to retire from international duty after the Euros, and could even hang up his boots entirely after starting to study for his coaching badges, so O’Neill can at least rely on the much-travelled striker as a non-playing member to provide advice and encouragement to the squad.
– A Keane eye for Ireland –
“Robbie is a pretty quick healer – he says that himself. He is the captain of the team, we would want him to be there and there’s not much more I can tell you,” O’Neill said.
“But he has been very influential in the group, he’s been very supportive the whole time he has been here and even when he hasn’t started in matches, he’s still with the team, so, yes, that is a thought, I must admit.”
Ideally, Keane will return to fitness in time for Ireland’s Group E opener against Sweden at the Stade in France in Paris.
With further fixtures to come against Belgium and Italy, the Republic’s daunting group gives Keane a final opportunity to remind the watching world why he has been bought for a total of £91 million ($129 million, 114 million euros) in transfer fees in his 19-year career.
Keane’s eye for goal and clever movement made him a highly prized asset from the moment he made his Wolves debut in 1997.
Within three years he was Britain’s most expensive teenager after joining Coventry for £6 million and soon Italian giants Inter Milan doubled that fee to take him to the San Siro.
But while Keane went on to shine at Leeds, Tottenham, Liverpool and Celtic, he is likely to finish his career without the medals to match his talent.
Aside from a League Cup final triumph with Tottenham in 2008, some of the most enduring images of Keane’s career have come on the international stage.
He scored three times at the 2002 World Cup, including crucial goals against Germany and Spain, and became Ireland’s leading scorer, passing Niall Quinn’s record, with a double against the Faroe Islands in 2004.
Keane’s place as an Irish icon is secure no matter what happens in France, but it would be a moment to remember if he could break out his famous cartwheel goal celebration one last time.
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