As a child of the Jack Charlton era, the 1988 UEFA European Championship was always going to stand out in Robbie Keane's mind. How could it be any other way? To put what the Republic of Ireland achieved that summer into context, you simply have to appreciate that until that tournament in West Germany, Ireland had never qualified for a major finals before. So '88 turned into a summer of celebration.
"I just remember all the banners on the streets, and the street parties, and you know, for some reason it just seemed to be the same feeling, even more so than in 2002," Keane told UEFA.com. "Yes, great memories, obviously: Ray Houghton scoring against England, and in 1990 as well, the World Cup when Packie Bonner saved the penalty [against Romania], and David O'Leary scoring. Now to be a player in that is great. And hopefully, in years to come, there will be some kid sitting here in my spot and saying the same thing about how well we did."
How well Ireland do may come down to how well Keane performs. As the talisman of this Irish side, he has not just broken the national goalscoring record, but obliterated it by scoring 53 times. "Do people understand exactly how good Robbie Keane is?" asked the previous holder of that record, Niall Quinn (21 goals).
"For years and years, Bobby Charlton's 49-goal-mark with England stood out as far and away the most impressive achievement by any individual in British and Irish football. So for Robbie to beat that is just incredible – especially as Ireland is a smaller country than England. In my eyes he already is one of the five greatest players in our history."
There is no doubt that Giovanni Trapattoni's appointment in 2008 has helped Keane reach that pedestal because under 'Trap', Keane has been prolific, scoring six goals in the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and seven more in the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers.
And again, here is a link back to the Charlton era, 'Trap' being Ireland’s first foreign coach since the Englishman was in charge from 1986 to 1995. And his marriage of Italian discipline with Irish heart has made him the perfect chaperone. "We have our own style of football," Trapattoni said. "We are not a Latin team, not a team that plays technically superior to other teams. We are a team that has its own characteristics, which I like very much – very direct and precise."
Precise and direct is how Trapattoni talks to these Ireland players: "We'd be quite similar, quite fiery characters," says Keane of his boss. "And he certainly gets the best out of the players. You get some managers who try to over-complicate things, and then you get someone like Trapattoni. The good thing is that the players know exactly what they have to do when they go out on that pitch, and that has been the case since he has come in. We've had a great relationship, and long may it continue."
How long Ireland continue their European adventure may depend on how well they do against Croatia on Sunday, the opening game in Group C. For Keane, one objective is clear – to stop the Croatians, Ireland must stop Luka Modrić, Keane's former colleague at Tottenham Hotspur FC.
Keane said: "He makes them tick. It's the same with Tottenham: every time he's on the ball he makes things happen, makes the players around him better when he's on form. So he's certainly one that we have to look out for, but they have other quality players."
To hear more from Keane and Trapattoni, watch the video above.
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