In this series of articles we will be reminding you of players you forgot ever donned the black and blue of the Nerazzurri, as well as discussing and dissecting their time at Inter as well as the rest of their careers.
This time we have the strange case of Robbie Keane. One of the most prolific marksmen of the Premier League during the 2000’s and undoubtedly Republic of Ireland’s greatest ever striker.
The question is, how did a little known Irishman, who had played in the Championship with Wolves and then a solitary season in the Premier League with Coventry, end up at San Siro to line up next to Javier Zanetti and Christian Vieri?
Aged just 20, Keane left Coventry to join the Nerazzuri for a sizeable sum of £13 million. The deal was a significant outlay at the time and sent a number of shockwaves around both England and Italy due to his unknown status in Italy and the sheer size of the fee. A player from a mid table Premier League side was about to join up with one of the most feared attacks in world football..
Keane was coming off the back of a twelve goal debut season for Coventry in the Premier League where he had formed a deadly partnership with Cedric Roussel. Coventry themselves had paid £6million for the Irishman, which was a British record for a teenager at the time, so the chance to more than double their money via Inter’s offer was too good to refuse.
Keane arrived in Milan and immediately found himself brushing shoulders with the likes of World Cup winner Laurent Blanc, Ajax legend Clarence Seedorf and Inter icon Javier Zanetti. Keane also found himself being coached by future World Cup winning coach of the Azzurri, Marcelo Lippi.
It was to be Lippi that turned out to be a key figure for Keane in his time at Inter. Lippi thrusted Keane straight into the spotlight by starting him in a Champions League qualifier against Helsingborg IF as partner to Turkish front man Hakan Sukur.
It was clear that Lippi has faith in Keane and was to give him plenty of first team exposure despite the number of quality options as his disposal. Keane was to start in the league and the Coppa Italia in his first few months at the club. He scored his first goal in the 4-3 classic Supercoppa Italia final defeat against league holders Lazio, scoring the game’s opening goal after just two minutes.
Things looked fairly promising in the first couple of months for Keane but not quite so for Inter. Poor league form, being knocked out of the Champions League at the qualifying stage and the Supercoppa defeat led to Marcelo Lippi relinquishing his duties as the Nerazzuri boss and this when things started to change for Keane.
Lippi was replaced by Marco Tardelli who immediately made it clear that Keane wasn’t part of his plans. Keane found first team opportunities limited under Tardelli and by the time Christmas came around, he was sent back to England.
Leeds United was to be Keane’s destination and he made no mistake in showing Tardelli that he was to be making a mistake. Nine goals in fourteen starts for Leeds as they reached the semi-finals of the Championships League and finished third in the league.
Keane’s impressive form persuaded Leeds to make the move permanent. For an initial fee for £12million, Keane joined the Elland Road outfit permanently and thus came the end of his Inter career.
Without Keane, Inter ended 2000/2001 in fifth place in the league as Marco Tardelli endured a rather up and down spell in hot seat. A horrifying 6-0 defeat to Milan in the Madoninna and an embarrassing defeat to Alaves in the UEFA Cup meant that Tardelli was replaced in the off season by Valencia coach Hector Cúper.
Keane himself went on to have a successful career in English football. Spells at Leeds, Tottenham and Liverpool bright varying degrees of success but at his brilliant best he had a reputation as one of the league’s most dangerous forwards. Keane’s phenomenal record for his national side is also not to be dismissed.
A whopping 68 goals at International level is not to be sniffed at and it is testimony to Keane that he is mentioned alongside Liam Brady as one of Irish football’s greatest ever exports.
As for his Inter career, the move may have turned out differently had Marcelo Lippi kept the manager’s post.
It was Lippi who bought Keane and gave him first team opportunities. At just 20, he had a lot to learn and a move to a club the size of Inter, just over a year after playing for Wolves in the English Championship, was going to take some adjusting to.
Lippi’s commitment to involving Keane as an when despite his luxurious attacking options was no doubt going to benefit the Irishman. However, we know this wasn’t to be and in came Tardelli who simply didn’t rate Keane and off he went.
The move itself was going to take some adjusting to for Keane as a young man playing in a foreign league with little experience behind him. That may well have happened under Lippi but we will never know.
Previous players in these series: