TO hear that Gordon Strachan believes Robbie Keane hasn’t changed from the 19-year-old he paid Wolverhampton Wanderers £6 million to take to Coventry City in 1999 won’t exactly thrill those of a Scottish disposition.
Strachan offers the assessment in terms of personality, but it is also true of his predatory abilities as a player.
With a tally of 65 goals for his country in 137 games across a 16-year Ireland career, the striker, now at LA Galaxy, is a phenomenon of the world game.
Only four Europeans have scored more goals in international football. Courtesy of his hat-trick in the 7-0 win over Gibraltar last month, he is now the top scorer in the history of the European Championships, and the bagger of the fastest triple netted in the tournament.
Keane may not have the speed of movement he possessed and made him the subject of £80m worth of transfer deals which brought spells with Inter, Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United, Liverpool and, for a six-month loan spell in 2010, Celtic.
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“He is the same kid as he was when he was 19. He was a gem of a kid to work with, an absolute gem. When we paid £6m for him and I told him he was just stopping off at us because he could go anywhere he wanted…I expected him to stay longer than nine months, right enough.
“But it was Inter Milan and Ronaldo or Coventry and Darren Huckerby. So he went. But it was fantastic working with him, I mean fantastic.
“His ability and enthusiasm was always going to take him to the top. He loves the game. He’s not changed, honestly. He’s got more intelligence, but with his actual game he’s still thinking quickly.
“I’d imagine there’s nobody who has a bad word for him. He was quick. He was sharp. His movement, spinning in behind people. He was doing things that made me think, ‘Who coached you that?’ I asked him, but he told me nobody, it was just from watching people play. I thought that was fantastic and hoped to claim the credit for it somewhere down the line.
“Robbie was a teenager when he joined us. Then he was off to Inter Milan. We doubled our money, but I’d rather have kept him.”
Strachan added: “He’s a good player and a good man, I still see him now.
“We’ve had people with great application, but not as technically gifted as him. Robbie has had to deal with being a top player since he was 19. That’s hard to keep going, that enthusiasm and people looking at you. He’s been a leader for 16 years and once you can do that then you call yourself a player.”
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