By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Robbie Keane, the 20-year-old Republic of Ireland striker, has become the most expensive Irish soccer player in history following his move to Italian Serie A club, Inter Milan.
Keane was signed from Coventry for £13 million pounds sterling and is set to earn a basic £1.75 million pounds a year for the next five years.
Little more than a year ago, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said he wouldn’t pay £500,000 for the young Dubliner, but, clearly, Inter place a far higher value on his talent. Keane has made a big impression since breaking into the Irish national team, and last season he scored 12 goals for Coventry in the English Premiership until he was troubled by an knee injury.
Keane will now team up with Ronaldo of Brazil, Italy’s Christian Vieiri, Laurent Blanc of France and Dutch international Clarence Seedorf at the world famous Milan club. However, there has already been some speculation that he will struggle to hold down a first-team place and could be sent out on loan to a lesser Italian club.
FAI technical director Brian Kerr, who coached Keane in several successful Ireland underage teams, wasn’t sure if the move to Italy was the right one.
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"There’s definitely the question of whether it’s too soon," said Kerr, "but who knows if another opportunity will come along like this one?"
Meanwhile, Liam Brady, who was the most famous Irish export to the Italian league, reckoned Keane had taken the right option.
"I think it’s a great move for him," he said. "The only downside is that he’s going into a situation where he won’t be an automatic choice. He’ll have to contend with three or four top-class strikers. It’s very difficult to say you’ll wait three years before going to Italy, because you might break your leg. I think you’ve got to go for it when the opportunity arrives."
The player himself was understandably upbeat about his move.
"When I used to kick a ball around the back streets of Dublin, I could never have imagined that one day I’d pull on the legendary black and blue striped shirt of Inter Milan," he said. "It’s every kid’s dream come true."