‘I saw the Anzhi fans tearing out seats and then throwing them at the Spartak fans ... It’s a different world’
Aiden McGeady tells David Kelly how he’s relishing life in Russian fast lane
Published 05/10/2010 | 05:00
Picture the scene. Rocks and stones are bouncing off the isolated bus in which you cower.
You're a stranger in a foreign land, thousands of miles away from home, surrounded by people with whom one's first meeting was a matter of weeks ago.
With barely the ability to mouth a muffled greeting in the native tongue, you have just watched a riot unfold an hour earlier, crowds of manic people flinging chairs and seats and projectiles at another selection of agitated people.
Welcome to Russia. Or, more precisely, welcome to Dagestan, one of its more volatile regions. Aiden McGeady sits on the Spartak Moscow team bus and his adrenalin is pumping.
His team colleagues pack their kit-bags tightly against the window as a feeble buffer lest the windows smash as the bus driver nervously attempts to extricate himself from the maddening, local lunatic fringe of FC Anzhi supporters.
Welcome to your new life. Sitting in a tranquil Dublin hotel suite, McGeady recounts this gripping tale, then surveys the past three months of his professional life.
"It's been going great for me," he beams.
The weekend witness to some raucous rioting in Russia's toxic northern Caucasus remains undeterred. "During the game, we had a corner and I was making my way up that side of the pitch and I could see over amongst the fans," McGeady continues.
"There was a big riot. I don't think it was the police and the Spartak fans, I don't know what happened. And then I saw the Anzhi fans running up to the Spartak fans, tearing out seats and throwing them at the Spartak fans.
"It's a different world out there. The boys were telling me that it's normal for teams in that region. They didn't tell me before the match though!"
Blame it on the language barrier. Aside from the lingo, few other obstacles have stunted McGeady's remarkable transition to life in the Russian league and, more importantly, the Champions League.
To understand why McGeady seems so contented in an environment where he doesn't yet own a house, possess a bank account or a driver's licence and where situations like the weekend's unfold with frightening regularity, it is necessary to recall where he came from.
Isolated by a new regime at Glasgow, tied to a ridiculously restrictive contract, haunted by the most egregious of sectarian abuse, in and out of hooped uniform, McGeady needed to escape as far as possible from the Scottish capital.
Moscow clearly wasn't his first choice. It may ultimately prove to be the best. Many close to him prompted him to grab the opportunity; more urged him against the move, amongst them Giovanni Trapattoni.
"I would say it was probably split," McGeady reports of the jury advising him of the most significant career move since he first decided to play international football for the land of his grandfather.
"Some people said I would be mad not to go and others were saying it is a big change, a different culture with a language barrier and that it's too far away from home.
"It didn't really make it harder, because I feel I am quite strong-minded anyway.
"I wasn't really swayed by anyone apart from the people close to me. The deciding factor was playing in a more respected league. No disrespect to the SPL, but there were times when you couldn't win there.
"If you were playing against a team apart from Rangers then people were saying he was only playing against St Mirren or whatever.
"If you played bad against them they got on top of you. It was a no-win situation.
"People look on the SPL as inferior to every other league. That's not how I think of it but people who are in football think that. So I thought it was too big an opportunity to turn down, playing for such a big team in Moscow."
Trapattoni's reluctance to see McGeady flee Celtic revealed an ironic fallibility; the Italian has historically bemoaned the player's inability to adjust from the mind-numbing demands of the SPL to the subtler exigencies of international football.
Performing at a more exacting level in Russia has already developed the player's skill set. "Somebody doesn't need to communicate with you to show you what to do on a football pitch and show you where to go," says McGeady.
Clearly, Trap's orders had been lost in translation.
"Before the last game playing against Armenia he showed me a couple of clips where the ball would be played long to Kevin Doyle and he has flicked it on and I have been running outside the full-back instead of running inside him, but I was just used to doing that at Celtic.
"He was always on my case about that and I just thought, 'Right, I have to make sure there's no more clips of me this time where he is saying I should have been running here or there'.
"He is very big on helping out the defence. I am not the best defender and I have never claimed to be, but it is something in my game that I can help, just to get back there and even be an extra body."
In last month's successful Euro 2012 qualifying bows, McGeady finally delivered his Eureka moment. "He is playing very well and his personality is much-improved," confirmed Trapattoni yesterday.
Now to deliver consistently, more responsibly too, considering that Damien Duff is sadly absent once more. "The team is stronger with Damien in it. I have a different mindset on for the game," McGeady reveals.
Fresh from sleeping with the enemy, McGeady can be an extremely potent weapon for his country in many ways this week. Russian football has provided his career with the perfect fillip just when it was most required.
Something they may discover to their cost this Friday night.