Heard the one about the Irishman who played with Ronaldo, Christian Vieri and Clarence Seedorf?

In July 2000 Robbie Keane left Coventry City for Inter Milan after a move for Marcelo Salas fell through

Coventry City and Inter Milan.

Two footballing sides you don’t often put in the same sentence.

Even rarer, then, that the context in which they were tied was an Irishman heading to the San Siro for the first time since Liam Brady in 1984.

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So when a 20-year-old Robbie Keane moved from Coventry to Inter on 30 July 2000 there was plenty of interest in both Blighty and Italy.

Only two Irishman had played in Italy before- Brady, who turned out for Juventus, Sampdoria, Inter and Ascoli between 1980 and 1987, and Paddy Sloan, who played for Milan and Torino between 1948 and 1951.

Keane was a long way away from Tallaght, Dublin.

From Tallaght to Milan

Keane’s transfer fee of £13million certainly raised a few eyebrows.

An injury-hit season before had yielded 12 goals to help Coventry avoid relegation and finish 14th in the Premier League.

But the weight of a transfer fee on his shoulders wasn’t a new sensation for Keane.

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They’re going to love that in Italy

He’d joined Coventry from Wolves the season before for £6mil, becoming English football’s most expensive teenager in the process.

It was a move that triggered Sir Alex Ferguson into saying he wouldn’t have paid more than £500,000 for the Irishman.

No pressure then, Robbie.

Meeting mates on his first day at work

Failed moves for Marcelo Salas and Sylvain Wiltord meant Keane rocked up for his first day of work alongside Ronaldo, Clarence Seedorf, Christian Vieri and Laurent Blanc.

He’d be competing against Ronaldo, Vieri, Alvaro Recoba and Hakan Sukur for a place up front in Marcello Lippi.


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Do your best Goodfellas impression Robbie

The initial signs couldn’t have been better.

Keane was selected up front alongside Sukur in the curtain raising Italian Super Cup against Lazio.

It took him just two minutes to get in behind Alessandro Nesta and lob Angelo Peruzzi. Welcome to Italy.


But a stuttering start to Inter’s domestic campaign saw Lippi sacked and replaced by Marco Tardelli in October.

Tardelli demoted Keane to the shadows of the San Siro, although he was able to find the back of the net against Ruch Chorzow in the UEFA Cup and Lecce in the Coppa Italia.

A month later and the dream was over. Keane was loaned to Leeds without scoring a Serie A goal, a move that was made permanent in the summer.

Peter Ridsdale couldn’t look more uncomfortable

But there was no shame in Keane’s failure.

He’d go on to collect 146 caps for the Republic of Ireland as well as representing Spurs, Liverpool, Celtic, West Ham, LA Galaxy and Aston Villa, before pitching up in Kolkata to play in the Indian Super League.

And he wasn’t the only youngster to leave Inter that summer, with a certain Andrea Pirlo following him out of the door.

Maybe they both just needed a bit more luck of the Irish.