McGeady must take his chance
Celtic star needs to follow in footsteps of great Scots and prove his worth in Premier League
Published 08/01/2010 | 05:00
It is maybe only a small echo of those days when the top English clubs thought first of Scotland when they had to reseed their teams with players of class and winning character.
But then, who knows, Aiden McGeady may yet take the lure which drew such superstars as Dave Mackay, Pat Crerand, Ian St John and Ronnie Yeats to pivotal roles at places like Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool.
Now Scotland scarcely merits a place on the scouting radar, so low the yield of outstanding individual talent -- and so pale is its representation in a national team which has so forlornly flagged the decline of what was once such a vibrant resource of Scottish life.
Barry Ferguson, one of the biggest names in Scottish football at Rangers, made a first, ballyhooed move south seven years ago to Blackburn with minimum impact -- and his second exile, this time with Birmingham City, has until recently scarcely brushed against significant success.
But then McGeady, perhaps in this new transfer window, is going to have fresh invitations to break the pattern?
Not with the fanfare of a John White, the man they called the ghost at White Hart Lane, or Jim Baxter, who moved south of the border when most of his glory with Rangers was spent, perhaps. Certainly it is not exactly a clamour, the demand for the Celtic ball-player led by Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish.
But if Birmingham so far haven't satisfied the Glasgow club's £10m evaluation there is plainly growing consideration for the man who chose the Republic of Ireland team before his birthplace Scotland. Tottenham are his most notable admirers, with Harry Redknapp said to be on the point of a move, and there is strong interest in the North East, one of the classic areas of Scottish football migration.
McGeady's most recent eye-catching performance against Rangers, and the respect he has earned from no less a severe judge than Giovanni Trapattoni, has clearly provoked at least a flutter of interest in reviving what was once one of the busiest trade routes in all of football.
St John, who became a Merseyside folk hero when Bill Shankly whisked him away from a brilliantly creative Motherwell early in a legendary regime, watched the New Year Old Firm game and was impressed by the showing of McGeady.
"Yes," said St John, "McGeady looked to me a lad who might make some impact down here . . . he is a rare product of Scottish football these days in that he seems happy to get on the ball and play a bit. Sometimes you look at the Scottish game and have to hold your head and say, 'where did all the players go?' Well, maybe this kid is a bit of a throwback."
At 25 McGeady is scarcely a kid -- and some suspect he may have settled for celebrity status in the less demanding world of the Scottish Premier League. Certainly he suggested he was happy to remain at Parkhead after the latest McLeish initiative failed. It is perhaps another example of the shrinking world of Scottish football, of disappearing horizons and a draining of self-belief.
Graeme Souness explained his refusal to consider the national team job after the sacking of George Burley with a brutal honesty.
"Something has gone badly wrong with Scottish football," he said, "when you consider the dearth of talent now available to the national manager. Darren Fletcher, everyone agrees, is doing a fine job at Manchester United. But it is still sobering to think that he is head and shoulders above most of his rivals in the Scottish team. Fletcher is certainly a good professional, but by the old standards of the Scottish game he could not be considered exceptional.
"There are various explanations. One is the number of cheap imports which flooded into Scotland with the first big TV contracts. That closed the door on many homegrown players. There is also the fact that the coaching of young players seems to have settled in the hands of people who don't really understand the needs of the professional game. It is a cultural problem, partly. Kids are too interested in their computer games and the TV . . . in the old days they were in the streets, playing football, becoming smart little players. That was the Scottish trademark, cleverness, toughness. Now you have to look hard for a trace of it."
St John agrees. "For every McGeady, there are a bunch of players who never seem to look up and see what's happening around them. That comes from a proper education in the game, an understanding of what is most important. Maybe the most important advice I received as a kid didn't come from someone like Bill Shankly but some guy in the street. He said, 'You have plenty of talent son but it won't come to anything if you don't take the time to lift you head up and see where the other kids are'."
Another ingredient of ultimate success is ambition, something which drove the likes of St John and Souness into the arms of the biggest English clubs. For Souness there was also the lure of the big money in Europe. "When I moved to Italy," he says, "I was captain of Liverpool, the European champions. The reason for the move was basic enough. I was being offered four times more in my pay packet."
Such a factor might yet prove decisive in the story of McGeady, the Scottish-based player who may just have revived the time-withered concept of desirable footballers springing up north of Hadrian's Wall.
For such as Redknapp and McLeish, McGeady's assured performance against Rangers was certainly a small but perhaps significant reminder of those days when the Scottish scouts were some of the busiest men in the business -- and when Celtic's great manager Jock Stein could field a team of European champions drawn entirely from a 20-mile radius of their birthplace Glasgow.
Invoking such times, and such figures, might seem callous in these days when the Scottish footballer has become almost a mythic figure. Still, Aiden McGeady does have the chance to revive some of the bare bones of discarded history.
The question is whether he has the nerve to take it. When St John signed for Liverpool he was driven to Anfield in the chairman's Rolls Royce. Shankly sat beside him and said: "Son, this is the most important journey of your life."
Redknapp and McLeish may not be able to muster quite such eloquence. But they can certainly extend the same invitation offered by Shankly. They can give Aiden McGeady the chance to prove quite how good he is.