OpinionJohn Aldridge

John Aldridge: Robbie Keane must be in squad for Euro 2016

John AldridgeBy Sunday World
John Aldridge says Robbie has to be with us in France next summer
John Aldridge says Robbie has to be with us in France next summer

Martin O’Neill has some big decisions to make after leading Ireland to Euro 2016 qualification in glorious fashion — and I still believe his plans should include Robbie Keane.

Robbie will be approaching his 36th birthday by the time the finals roll around in France next summer and most people have come to the conclusion that his time is up as a top-level performer.

Yet I would like to think there is one magic moment left in Ireland’s iconic goalscorer, one fleeting glimpse of what has made him such a special player for our country.

Jack Charlton took me to the World Cup when I was nearing the end of my playing career in 1994 and I would like to think I played a part with the goal I scored against Mexico in Orlando.

Maybe Robbie has one last golden strike left in his boots…wouldn’t that be a fairy tale.

We all appreciate that Robbie should not be a starter at Euro 2016, but having a talisman of his standing in the game around the squad can only help us when we get to France.

Keane has emerged as the leader of the Irish pack in the last few years and I’m sure the young lads in the squad look up to him for what he has achieved and the position he now holds in the list of all-time great international goal scorers. 

It may be that he is only used in an emergency to try and scramble a goal late in a game, but I can guarantee that the opposition will look at Keane coming on and they will have respect for him.

So my suggestion is not merely a sentimental move, not at all. 

There are 23 places available in the Ireland squad for Euro 2016 and Robbie justifies getting one of them for all the reasons I have outlined.

Aside from that issue, isn’t it just fantastic that we are here in the final weekend of November talking about a bright future for the Ireland team after the wonderful events at the Aviva Stadium last Monday night.

Everyone involved in Ireland’s qualifying triumph deserves to take their share of credit for the success as this was a collective effort in every sense.

We no longer have world-class performers in our squad that can turn a game for us against top quality opposition, but we have a spirit and a passion that has taken us past a Bosnian side that couldn’t handle what we threw at them.

I was more than a little pessimistic about our chances of coming through the play-off after speaking to a few of my Welsh colleagues who suggested we would struggle to get the result against Edin Dzeko and his pals.

Ian Rush was among those who liked what he saw from Bosnia in the two matches against his country, yet they were limp against Ireland and manager O’Neill’s tactical planning was one of the reasons for that.

Martin had the team set up perfectly, with the balance between our attacking ambitions and the desire to keep a tight ship defensively working a treat in the two play-off games.

Aside from their streaky effort in the fog of the first leg, Bosnia barely looked like scoring a goal in 180 minutes of football and that was a tribute to the energy we put into the games.

Jonathan Walters took much of the plaudits for his magnificent display in the second leg, but there were heroes all over the pitch and now the planning can start in earnest for Euro 2016.

Let’s be honest, we are going to be up against it when the tournament gets underway, but we have shown that there is no reason for us to fear anyone on the international stage.

This qualification reminds me of our success in making it through to Euro ’88, when Ireland was coming out of a nasty recession and everyone united behind a football team that was putting a smile on so many faces.

Some 28 years later, the scenario is being repeated, with the financial crisis that was gripping us easing a little and the Boys in Green starting to show some form again.

I don’t know how far we can go at in the tournament, but who cares about that right now.

The main thing is we are through to Euro 2016 and we can all raise another few pints to toast that joyous reality today.

Well done to Martin and all the boys — you did us all proud.