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Keane: The cockiest Cockerel

Posted on 14 September 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Ever since Jurgen Klinsmann peeled away and divebombed into the White Hart Lane mud for the final time, Tottenham fans have been waiting not just for a regular goalscorer but one who celebrates with genuine attitude. Somehow Les Ferdinand's air-punch and Teddy Sheringham's smile - however welcome - fall short of a choreographed routine.

But everything could change on Sunday at White Hart Lane against West Ham if Robbie Keane tumbles into Tottenham legend with the sort of cartwheel that featured so heavily for Ireland in last summer's World Cup.

Already the fans are waiting to acclaim a World Cup hero just as they did eight years ago when Klinsmann joined in the wake of USA 94.

"I am so excited at the chances this Spurs team are going to create for me and vice versa," said Keane, whose transfers from Wolves to Coventry to Inter Milan to Leeds and now Spurs have totted up to £38 million over the past three years.

"I watched them against Southampton on the day I signed and the prospect of playing with those players really excites me, even though we are yet to have a full-strength side available.

"Teddy and Les are intelligent footballers. They know how to use the ball and space and I know that the style of football Glenn Hoddle is playing will suit me and them.

"I know Spurs fans will look to me to score goals for them but I want to create chances for the players around me as well.

"More than anything, I want to play. Ever since I started playing football as a kid, I have wanted to be out on the pitch, playing the game and scoring goals. The frustration at Leeds was that I wasn't getting the chance to play.

"Glenn has offered me that chance now and I intend to repay him as soon as I can. Everything I have seen and heard from Spurs has been positive. Now I want to put it all into practice on the pitch."

Those who know him best - like Ireland manager Mick McCarthy - believe Tottenham fans could be in for a treat. "I am delighted for Robbie that he will get regular first-team football at last and Spurs fans should be delighted that they have signed him," says McCarthy.

"This is as big a signing as they could have wished for, potentially as big as Klinsmann all those years back. They are getting a 22-year-old striker who knows where the goal is and has a trick or two that can cause problems for any defence.

"Robbie proved at the World Cup finals that he can score against the best defences in the game when he is given the chance and I am sure Hoddle will give him the first team football he is looking for now.

"That has been Robbie's only problem over the last two years. Ever since he moved to Inter Milan he has struggled to hold down a regular first-team spot and that has frustrated him.

"I know from talking to him in recent weeks how desperate he is to play week in and week out.

"Any professional footballer would be the same. Robbie wants to play and score goals and he clearly felt that was an issue when he was left out of the first two games of the season at Leeds.

"Now that he is getting the chance at Spurs, I know he will take it."

Tottenham will unveil the cockiest cockerel of them all when Keane makes his debut - this is a player who has never been short on confidence.

Growing up in the working-class west Dublin suburb of Tallaght where he is still known as Whacker, Keane had to be street-wise at an early age. His football talent set him apart from the rest in an area where unemployment is the norm, a town that once threatened to ban an English Sunday paper which described Keane's home estate as Fort Apache the Bronx. Fettercairn, his nearest club, were soon unable to match Keane's ability and ambition. At 12, he signed for Crumlin United, the club which nurtured Niall Quinn and Kevin Moran, among others. And right away, the celebratory cartwheel was unveiled in the Dublin and District Schoolboys League.

Scouts flocked to see Keane in action on a Saturday morning. Although Liverpool, the club he followed as a boy, tried to sign him at 15, he opted instead for Wolves.

"The youth coaches at Wolves took no time in telling me that Robbie was the best player to ever pass through their hands, better even than Steve Bull," remembers Brian Kerr, the manager who guided Ireland to a European youth championship with Keane at the fulcrum of his side.

"They were amazed at how much skill this little kid had and I was staggered at their estimation of his ability. I could not understand how a skinny little young fellow from Tallaght could be the best player they had ever worked with.

"But they were adamant about Robbie and he has proved them right ever since. The biggest thing with Robbie is his confidence. I asked him one week who Wolves were playing the following Saturday and he said he had no clue but added he would score against them. He did as it happens."

Keane knows he is making a fresh start at Spurs. He has signed a four-year deal with a two-year option and has already asked new team-mate Gary Doherty for advice on houses and routes to the Tottenham training ground. He also knows this is the time to deliver. "There is no pressure on me, the only pressure is to play," insists Keane.

"Ever since I got into the Irish team and the first team at Wolves there has been speculation and media attention. That goes with the territory. Mick McCarthy, more than anyone, has drummed into me that this game is full of highs and lows. Today you are a hero, tomorrow they put the knife in. That doesn't bother me. All I want to do is play football and score goals, for Ireland and now for Spurs."

McCarthy knows what Keane means. "If Robbie was back in Tallaght, I'd wager that his life would revolve around his weekend football with his mates. That's all he is: a footballer, a performer in need of a stage.

"If Spurs give him that stage now, he will deliver."

This feature, by Cathal Dervan, first appeared in the London Evening Standard