No, it's not frustrating, Robbie Keane says, that with the transfer window once again open his name is being reeled off in the constant speculation over who is going where. "Because, to be honest," adds the Tottenham Hotspur striker and stand-in captain, "I don't care."
There's a ready explanation for his emphatic response. "Ever since I was a kid, every summer I seemed to be linked with different clubs," Keane says. "It's part of football and you have to accept that and get on with it."
From the age of 17, Keane, still just 25, has had a bewilderingly nomadic career. Five clubs in five years and transfers that total £38 million. Why? "For no other reason than to play football," is the ready response of the Dubliner who, it should be pointed out, has never submitted a transfer request. Instead he has just always been in demand and eager to perform.
As Keane speaks, the verdict of the Italian coach Marcello Lippi - who dubbed him "Baby Irish" after a £13m move to Internazionale - is recalled. No player, Lippi said, needs to play as much as Keane. It is an assessment with which the man himself concurs. "For me it's about playing football, and that's what matters. If I'm playing and scoring goals then I'm happy."
He is very happy right now. Today, in the absence of the injured Ledley King, Keane will lead out Spurs for the FA Cup third-round tie away to Leicester City. It will further banish the early-season memories of the dozen frustrating games he spent among the substitutes, watching Jermain Defoe and Mido forging a partnership.
Keane frowns at the memory, and also at the suggestion that it was a beneficial experience. "I wouldn't say that it was from being on the bench," he says. "You don't want that, do you? No one wants it. Whether it's me or anyone else. You want to play. It's all we are in this job for. Of course it was frustrating, but it was up to me to work hard on the training pitch and when I did get my chance, to take it."
Five goals in eight appearances and a string of high-energy, eye-catching performances have reinforced that claim. "At the moment it seems to be going all right for me," Keane adds cautiously. "If it doesn't then I know I'm out of the team."
The belief was this: Keane was unhappy, he wanted to leave and was on the verge of doing so, to Everton, last summer. "Not that I know of," he says of whether he was close to going, although the signs are that if Spurs had managed to secure Feyenoord's Dirk Kuyt he would have left. "I was happy to stay here, I wanted to stay here and I'm here today. I could have maybe chucked it in and said I wanted to go, but I stuck it out and was determined to do well at the club. I believe it's going places."
Indeed, according to those around Spurs, not once during his exile from the team did Keane complain. Instead he buckled down and kept his counsel, although there was a training- ground dust-up with Edgar Davids, a combustible enough character who nevertheless has earned Keane's admiration. "His record speaks for itself," he says of the Dutch midfielder. "And he's brought that experience and done ever so well for us."
There are other misconceptions, such as the one that Keane is not a prolific enough goal-scorer. The statistics show that, with 45 goals in 92 Premiership appearances, his ratio is more impressive than that of his team-mate Jermain Defoe, who is regarded as a more deadly finisher but who has 25 goals in 54 League games.
It has helped Keane that he has settled at Spurs and enjoys living in Hertfordshire. After three-and-a-half years it is the longest spell the player, who was the most expensive teenager in British football when he joined Coventry City for £6m, has spent anywhere.
"But I felt settled at Leeds also," he points out, referring to the club he left for White Hart Lane. Talk of Leeds brings an interesting comparison. That side reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and, Keane believes, Spurs have a similar potential. "It reminds me of the team we had when I first signed for Leeds, a young side," Keane says of the Tottenham squad. "We have a lot of great young players coming through. Aaron Lennon has a great future and Michael Dawson has been a revelation." The mention of 18- and 22-year-old team-mates makes Keane laugh. "I feel old around all the youngsters," he says. "There are so many."
Spurs have first to qualify for the Champions' League. "We've got a great chance, especially if we keep playing the way we are," Keane says, describing the first half in the midweek victory away to Manchester City, which consolidated their fourth place, as the best Spurs have performed on their travels this season. "But if we finish above what we finished last season then that is obviously a step forward."
The Cup has been a more trad-itional route to success for Tottenham even if, under the present head coach, Martin Jol, ambi-tions have been raised. Another Cup run, however, would be welcome, especially after the early, embarrassing exit in the Carling Cup away to Grimsby Town. "We don't want to go through that again," says Keane.
He recalls days spent in the streets of Tallaght, the sprawling council estate in south-west Dublin where he was raised, dreaming of playing at Wembley. "As a kid growing up, I always wanted to win in the FA Cup," Keane says.
In all his travels he has yet to win anything but, while still a kid, he got close. At the age of 17 Keane reached the semi- finals with his first club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, when they lost 1-0 to Arsenal at Villa Park in April 1998. "It was a tremendous run by Wolves, who were then in the First Division," Keane recalls. "It was a great occasion and we were unlucky to get beaten. But that's the closest I have come."
Last season Spurs lost in the last eight to Newcastle. This season they have the resolve to go further. Even then it would not end the speculation over Keane. "It will never go away," he says, "even if I sign a new contract." His present deal expires this summer, but there is a two-year option the club can take up.
"A year from now, if I'm not playing a few games, then people will be saying the same things," he adds. "I'm happy at the moment. I'm playing. I'm scoring goals. The team are doing well. It's tremendous. I've still got two-and-a-half years left. That's a long way to go, so let's see what happens. I'm concentrating on playing football."Reuse content