Robbie Keane has welcomed "a new chapter in Irish football" by announcing he has no intention of quitting the Republic of Ireland and will extend his club career with a new long-term contract at LA Galaxy.
Doubt had surrounded the 33-year-old's future on the international stage after the Republic of Ireland's failure to qualify for the World Cup under Giovanni Trapattoni. In the build-up to Martin O'Neill's first game as manager against Latvia on Friday, however, the striker was adamant he would play until "my legs are gone" and has no plans to relinquish the captaincy. Keane did rule out the prospect of returning to the Premier League in January due to an achilles problem, although the injury has not deterred Galaxy from offering their captain a new deal.
"I haven't signed it yet but it is verbally agreed, two and possibly three years," said Keane. "I am excited about that. Usually when you hit the 30-mark you get a one-year rolling contract to see how you are, so it goes to show the faith they have in me to give me that contract, and I will play on as long as I feel healthy and fit. At the moment I feel good, I have a few niggles which I have had in the past and I will look at thatbut I will continue as long as I can."
Keane could have followed players such as David Beckham and Landon Donovan in leaving the MLS on loan in January but said his fitness had to take priority over a return to the Premier League. "I wouldn't say that will happen because of the achilles injury that I want to sort out," he said. "I'm speaking to the doctors at the moment and we will decide where to go next week. It could be I have to get a clean-out or if not I'll have to do a lot of rehab to make sure it doesn't come back. So at this moment in time, probably not."
The former Tottenham forward has 61 goals in 130 appearances for Ireland, "a phenomenal record," said O'Neill. The new Republic manager added: "If you look at some of the other players who have played international football for reputedly better teams than the Republic of Ireland, whose record is nowhere like that, his record is remarkable. Really remarkable. Naturally I would have liked to have had in my time here a 23-year-old Robbie Keane instead of a 64-year-old Robbie Keane. That's a problem."
It is a problem Keane is acutely aware of but, enthused by the appointments of O'Neill and Roy Keane, he intends to continue leading the team throughout qualifying for Euro 2014. He said: "You have seen the response in the last few weeks from the whole nation. It has been incredible. That's the lift that everybody wanted and you don't get two bigger characters than Martin and Roy. Everyone is enthusiastic about this partnershipand the players are too."
O'Neill turned to Keane at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday and told the striker to "keep playing until you're 64". But the manager admitted the captaincy may be addressed later in his tenure. "Somewhere down the line there might be changes," said O'Neill. "Personally I don't see it as the most important element. If he's playing well and scoring goals for us, I'll be delighted. If he wants to relinquish it and concentrate on playing at some point, then I'll listen to it."
Keane said: "I want to play as long as I can but I'm not daft. I'm 33 years of age and next time the Euros come around, ultimately it's the manager's choice [about the captaincy]. If I keep playing well and scoring goals, then there's no problem but, if I feel my legs are gone, then I'll pack in."
O'Neill claimed he will not decide on his team or formation until match day and will make several changes in Poland next Tuesday as he considers the options available. The feelgood factor of his appointment, he concedes, will be maintained only with victory over Marian Pahars's Latvia.
The Ireland manager said: "Bobby [Ward], our head of security, has been looking after me for the last few days. I said to him: 'I don't want you looking after me now Bobby, everything's fine. It's after we lose a few games that you should be looking after me.' It's been great, I'm genuinely excited about the game, but I'm well aware that this is the 10-minute honeymoon you get."
Republic of Ireland (probable, 4-4-1-1): Forde; Coleman, O'Shea, Pearce, Wilson; McGeady, McCarthy, Whelan, Walters; Hoolahan; Keane.
Latvia (probable, 5-3-2): Kolinko; Gabovs, Bulvitis, Gorkss, Maksimenko, Sinelnikous; Fertovs, Laizans, Lazdins; Sabala, Visnakovs.