Given excited by new role but not giving up on return to playing at top level
Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30
Shay Given used to drive home from Aston Villa's training ground dreading the weekends.
After almost 20 years as a professional, playing in front of packed crowds every Saturday, the prospect of spending his weekends agonising over whether to make yet another mundane shopping trip had hardened his determination to quit Villa Park this summer to find a team where he could get a game.
But last week it all changed when Paul Lambert's assistants, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa, were suspended – the latest upheaval in another difficult season at the club.
After being in the unwanted position of third-choice goalkeeper, Given says it took him seconds to accept Lambert's offer of assisting the coaching staff for the final weeks of Villa's relegation battle.
And already Given, a naturally upbeat character, has lifted the atmosphere in the dressing-room. "Last week when it all kicked off the gaffer pulled me in on Tuesday morning and asked if I would be interested in helping out," he said.
"The first thing I did on the training ground was tell (first-choice goalkeeper) Brad Guzan he was dropped and that Jed Steer (Guzan's deputy) would be in the stands." A broad smile breaks out on Given's face.
"When the game came around on Saturday, I walked into the dressing-room with a clipboard under my arm and got a lot of grief.
"I've actually got the clipboard downstairs now – there's nothing on it though. I also sat in the gaffer's seat in the dugout, which was a schoolboy error to start with.
"But the experience against Southampton was something I really enjoyed. I'd love to be playing, of course, but now I'm bringing something to the team assisting the manager. You miss that drug, that adrenalin of being involved and I got it back to an extent last Saturday."
Given is not there simply to lift spirits, however. He already has his Uefa 'A' and 'B' licences and will start on his pro-licence this summer, as he prepares for the day when he finally retires.
He insists that is still a long way off. He was 38 on Sunday and still has ambitions of playing in the Premier League.
By his own admission, it will not be with Villa after being sidelined by Lambert because of his high wages. Given has not played a league game for the club since August 2012 and his only football this season was on loan at Middlesbrough. "The manager and the club have said they would let me go if somebody came in. It's quite clear with the budget the manager has here and the cutbacks to be made, but I still feel I've got plenty of time left in my career.
"When you train all week, do all the extra work in the gym, you question yourself because there's no game at the end of it.
"Hopefully something will happen in the summer and I can get playing again. You only have to look at Mark Schwarzer playing in a Champions League semi-final at 41 years old on Tuesday or Brad Friedel (42) at Spurs.
"People do forget you but that's why my time on loan at Middlesbrough was important. It went really well."
Given, who kept 10 clean sheets in 16 games, added: "It gave me a boost again. I feel I can still play in the Premier League. Maybe I could go to a bigger club as a No 2 'keeper because I feel I've got plenty to offer. My future may be elsewhere but the most important thing for now is retaining Villa's status in the Premier League."
It is testimony to Given's character and resolve that even during his darkest days over the last two seasons he has never caused a fuss. He has never trained with Lambert's group of highly-paid outcasts and there have been no thoughts of submitting a transfer request or retirement. It has still been excruciating at times, however, which makes his new role all the more remarkable.
"I can definitely understand how it must have looked strange to the outside world," he says. "The door has always been open and I've been in to see Paul a few times. He's always made it clear it (team selection) is nothing personal and you have to take it on the chin.
"You do learn as you get older and doing my coaching badges, you do appreciate the job a manager has, with different constraints. I was more hot-headed when I was younger but now you take a step back to look at the bigger picture."
Given will be back in the dugout this weekend at Swansea – in the right seat this time – with Villa only five points adrift of the relegation zone.
"We're in a tough position in the league but getting the club safe is the most important thing," he says.
"It's an opportunity for me to learn and the pressures that comes with it. Now I'm dealing with the players in a different way, some of them look at me a bit funny when I tell them things on the training ground. It's only for a few weeks but they have been taking a few points on board." (© Daily Telegraph, London)