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I couldn’t say no to Liverpool twice – Robbie Keane

One drop of the shoulder, a ferocious strike and a cheeky grin to finish was all it took to convince Crumlin United chairman Sean Wall that Robbie Keane was the real deal.

The South Dublin School boy outfit's supremo knew within seconds of the first training session that he had something special on his hands when he first took an interest in his son's under-11s side way back in 1990. Since then he has watched the career of Robert David Keane with great interest and has no doubt that the lifetime Liverpool fan will repay Rafael Benitez's faith in him by proving to be a sure-fire hit on Merseyside.

"I remember the first time I set eyes on Robbie Keane and I can tell you I was very impressed. He had this lightning pace that was a complete nightmare for defenders and I thought 'we've got something special here'. My only concern was that he didn't have the build. That was the only thing I could see stopping him from going on to have a career in the game. He lacked a bit of height back then but apart from that he had everything. He's gone on to enjoy a magnificent career in the game and I think the best part is still to come at Liverpool - his spiritual home."

Wall recalls some of Robbie's finest moments in a Crumlin shirt with great affection and admits it didn't take long for the scouts to start flocking to South Dublin to check out the talents of one of Tallaght's finest.

"I remember one game in particular where Robbie's influence was massive," chuckles Wall. It was an under-11s match in the cup and we were playing against a side that always beat us. They had the Indian sign over us that's for sure, but on this particular day Robbie was unplayable and he eventually won a penalty that saw us go on to win 2-0. A lot of the newspapers came to see that game and they always gave out kit bags to the best player on the pitch. Needless to say Robbie went home with some new kit that night! Those types of displays make people take notice and from the age of 12 there was always a scout or two checking on his progress.

"He nearly signed for Liverpool at one point and I think Forest were interested too but in the end he went to Wolves. He just clicked with the set-up and the coaching staff there and at that age feeling comfortable in your surroundings is the most important thing; so that was that.

"I always remember his last game for Crumlin. He had a goal disallowed that would have given him his 60th goal of the season. He was gutted at the time but I assured him he was going on to bigger and better things. Knowing Robbie though, I'm sure he's still irritated that he didn't get his 60th of the season!"

For all his skill and finishing ability in front of goal, it is Keane's mentality that Wall believes is key to the Irish international's success in the game.

He's seen the 28-year-old overcome a series of disappointments in his time, from the frustration of missing out on a school boy select side at the age of 11 through to the high profile disappointment of his big money move to Inter Milan.

It is a character trait he feels will prove beneficial to Liverpool in the years ahead and he is convinced it won't be long before the striker is banging in the goals and earning his place in the hearts of supporters as a new Kop idol.

"I think Robbie's secret is that he has great mental strength," he says. "It's unbelievable how strong his mind is. In Ireland we have something called the Kennedy cup squad which only the best young players in the area are selected for. Robbie was banging in the goals left, right and centre for us but he wasn't picked because they thought he was too small.

"I was worried that it would get him down but he didn't let it get to him. Instead he just focused on improving his game and came roaring back, scoring even more goals and the next time that squad was picked he was in it.

"It was the same with Inter Milan. He got this big money move to Italy and was all set to play for a manager who believed in him. But then Marcelo Lippi left and a new guy came in who didn't fancy him as a player.

"But did it get him down? Not Robbie. He worked harder than ever and even when it didn't come off for him in Milan he came back to England and hasn't looked back since.

"He's gone up another level again now with Liverpool but he's not one to let pressure get to him and I assure you he will do the business for the Reds.

"I think he'll be a big favourite with the fans, I really do."

Keane's move to Liverpool is a dream come true for a man who once mimicked the skills of John Barnes, Ian Rush, John Aldridge et al as a youngster growing up in Tallaght.

It is an opportunity Wall feels Keane will be delighted to have finally realised and recalls a moment 15 years earlier when a wide-eyed youngster got his first taste of Anfield action.

"I remember taking the boys over to Liverpool for a game back in 1993," he says.

"It was real milestone for them and their first experience of Anfield. Robbie was a mad Liverpool fan just like my son Brendan and after the game we went and stood outside the players' entrance.

"They all asked for autographs and got their picture taken with the likes of Ronnie Whelan and it was just the perfect end to a great day.

"I think he's always remembered that and uses it as an example of how to treat fans now that he is a player.

"We phoned him up at the end of last season and asked him to come and give out some end of year awards for us. He said he couldn't make it because he was stuck in the hotel ahead of a game with Ireland.

"He was disappointed not to be able to attend and after thinking it over for a few moments told us to have the ceremony without him and then bring the kids to the Ireland team hotel because there was nothing stopping him from seeing them there.

"So we got a coach to take us to see him the next night and he was just fantastic with them. He spent a good few hours signing autographs, having his picture taking and chatting to all the players. It just sums up what kind of a great person he is."

Wall admits he has yet to speak to Keane following his big money move to Liverpool but feels Ireland's record goalscorer will already be itching to get started and insists it won't be long before the Reds' new number seven is tormenting the Premier League alongside Fernando Torres.

"I'm sure his phone is red hot at the moment so I'll leave it a while before I pass on my congratulations," he says.

"I've no doubt he is over the moon. You only have to look at these pictures of him as a kid at Anfield to see that Liverpool is where his heart is.

"I'm sure he can't wait to play his first match for the club now and start to link up with Fernando Torres.

"I thought the Keane-Berbatov partnership was the best in the league last season and I've no doubt he will link up just as well - if not better - alongside Torres.

"Robbie can drop off and slide passes through for Torres and I'm sure they will hit it off in no time at all.

"He's such a great team player that he'll do whatever is needed for the good of his side. That can only be good for Liverpool and I'm sure that he will now go on and continue that fine tradition of great players to wear the number seven shirt for the club.

"Rafael Benitez knows what he is doing and he'll know he's brought in a gem of a player who could go some way to helping them end that long, long wait for the Premier League title."

Keane is equally laid back about filling the number seven shirt – and not just because he is inheriting it from Harry Kewell.

It does, of course, have a far more illustrious past, although its most famous incumbents are a bit off Keane’s radar.

Kevin Keegan vacated it before the Irishman was born and Kenny Dalglish had almost permanently swapped his for the tracksuit and the touchline when Keane’s Anfield love affair really started to blossom but the significance of his squad number is not lost on him.

“As a Liverpool fan the number seven jersey is massive,” he added. “It is a fantastic opportunity for me that obviously I’m relishing. It’s a dream come true.

“The people who have worn the number seven here, like Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish – if I do half the job they did at Liverpool I will be happy.”

But as someone who has already proved he can score in front of the Kop – as well as the Anfield Road End – when his double helped Spurs to a 2-2 draw last October, he knows the secret to getting the goals that will get those Liverpool supporters back on side.

“I will just continue what I did for Tottenham,” Keane added. “I scored a lot of goals there and been consistent every season. I need to do the same.

“That is the reason why the manager has bought me. I am not coming here to be a different person or a different player. The manager has bought me for a reason because of what I have done at Tottenham. I will continue to do that and hopefully help this team progress even more.

“As a striker there is always a lot expected of you, especially when you have been around for a while and scored goals in your career.

“As a striker you get judged on scoring goals and I am no different to anyone else. I think I will score goals for the team and create goals and just work hard for the team. That will not change.

“The responsibility of trying to help this team win things is not a problem for me. Being captain of Ireland is a responsibility in itself, I have been captain of Spurs when Ledley King has been injured for a long time so that’s responsibility too.

“Hopefully I can be a part of the team and help the club push on even further.

“I believe that I can help the team. That is why the manager has probably bought me here.”

Keane admitted he wouldn’t have left Spurs for anyone else, and thinks he could even have fulfilled his Champions League ambitions without making the switch.

“The Champions League is massive but I wouldn’t say it was out of reach at Spurs,” said Keane. “Two years ago we were close going into the last game of the season until the ‘lasagne’ situation (Spurs blamed food poisoning on the fact that many of their players were taken ill before the 2-1 defeat at West Ham that allowed Arsenal to finish fourth at their expense in 2006).

“I think they are close now with Juande Ramos, who was fantastic for me and I have nothing but respect for him.

“But Liverpool is a package, the whole package. It was a tough situation. Everything was great for me at Tottenham. I had a great relationship with the players, the staff, the chairman, everyone else. But this is a new chapter in Robbie Keane’s life and a chance that I am really looking forward to.”

Copyright - Liverpool Daily Post

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