Is Given really worth £15m?
Aston Villa have signed Ireland's 35-year-old 'keeper on a remarkable five-year multi-million pound contract. Is it just a lucrative retirement package, or will it reignite his club career? Daniel McDonnell investigates
Published 20/07/2011 | 05:00
EASY money at a retirement home, or the move that could reinvigorate a flagging career?
That's the question facing Shay Given after a switch to Aston Villa that will net the 35-year-old in excess of £15m over the next five years in wages -- an astonishing contract for a player approaching the twilight of his career.
The length of the deal has cushioned the 25pc pay cut (from £80,000 to £60,000 a week) that Ireland's most capped player has taken to leave Eastlands.
For his new boss Alex McLeish, who was willing to invest £3.5m to bring Given in, the length of contract represents a gamble. He says that Given has a point to prove but, in reality, there is more than just one.
On the face of it, he is taking a massive step down in leaving England's most upwardly mobile entity to join Villa, a selling club that consistently flatters to deceive, a midlands club firmly planted in the middle of the road.
Throughout his career, Given has hated playing second fiddle, and he was clearly frustrated by Roberto Mancini's decision to relegate him behind Joe Hart.
Now, in his new environment, he must prove that he was right to be anguished by that omission, and that he can retain his desire in the familiar bosom of a club -- like Newcastle -- where any hope of winning silverware rests on the vagaries of a cup run.
After a luckless run of injuries, and a confidence-sapping period in the reserves, he has to demonstrate to a number of parties that he is worth his £15m swansong, to three parties...
1) TO ASTON VILLA
First and foremost, he needs to justify the faith of McLeish.
It's probably just as well that the Birmingham club have money in the coffers from selling Ashley Young and Stewart Downing this summer, because very few clubs would dream of offering £15m over five years to a 35-year-old with a chequered recent injury record. From Given's point of view, it is a remarkable piece of business.
Certainly, a goalkeeper can carry on until he is 40; the man he replaces -- Brad Friedel -- and the recently retired Edwin Van Der Sar provide compelling evidence of that. However, Given has suffered a desperate run since a horrific clash with West Ham's Marlon Harewood back in 2006.
Since then, wear and tear elsewhere has taken its toll. Shoulder problems are his latest bugbear, while in his first really competitive match of 2011, Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifying win over Macedonia in June, he struggled through with a groin complaint.
A full pre-season and a sustained run of games should help tune the muscles, but the Villa board will be looking for a solid return on their investment.
After all, they have little evidence from the past year to suggest that Given is the 'keeper he was. An outstanding display in Skopje hinted at it; but McLeish will be in the firing line if an expensive acquisition spends a lot of time on the treatment table.
Given's new £60,000 wage effectively brings him in line with two other Irishmen at the club -- his old pal Richard Dunne and the enigmatic Stephen Ireland, both of whom were also able to command a healthy wedge to convince them to leave the riches on offer at Eastlands.
On balance, Dunne has been worth it, despite disciplinary issues last term. Ireland most certainly has not.
2) TO MANCHESTER CITY
McLeish's comments would suggest that Given has indicated a desire to make Roberto Mancini look foolish.
After all, the Italian effectively made the judgment that the Irishman wasn't good enough for a club making the leap to the top four, and with ambitions of moving beyond.
That's quite a snub for Given, who is sure of his own ability, and had to be quite diplomatic when it came to answering questions about his demotion behind Hart.
Certainly, Hart is a fine young goalkeeper, but he is far from flawless and suffered some difficult spells last year, especially after Christmas when there were murmurs that Given was set for a recall. It never happened, though.
There was a feeling -- one that was whispered in football circles -- that Hart's nationality weighed in his favour, with the Manchester City project needing a young English star to encourage its growth.
Maybe that's Irish paranoia, but then you are talking about a regime led by chief executive Garry Cook, who once bemoaned the fact that Dunne's name wouldn't "roll off the tongue in Beijing".
In other departments, City do seem to have a determination to pay over the odds for mediocre England players with a relatively high profile as a result of their international status. Given is eager to show that his experience would have been a better bet for City than Hart at this stage of his development.
3) TO GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI
With Keiren Westwood performing well in Given's absence against Macedonia in March, and then securing a move to the Premier League this summer, the prospect of competition in the Irish goalkeeping stakes was alive.
If Given had stayed in the background at Eastlands with Westwood starting regularly in the Premier League, then Trapattoni would have been left with a bit of dilemma.
The suspicion is that he would have leaned towards Given anyway -- his loyalty to Robbie Keane during an equally miserable club existence last year would certainly back up that assertion.
Nevertheless, Given conceded that he was lacking sharpness around the international games last autumn when he was inactive with his employers, so making the decision to up and leave is a welcome statement of intent in a major championship year.
Another question now lingers. After signing a bumper club contract that looks like keeping him in senior football until the age of 40, will Given seek to extend his international career in tandem?
Trapattoni is desperate to stay on until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; he shouldn't find it too hard to convince Given to stick around as well when that tournament is just over halfway into his existing club deal.
Shay Given factfile
1991: Invited to join Celtic pre-season tour in Ireland after impressing for local team Lifford Celtic.
1992: Signed for Celtic by Liam Brady.
1994: Leaves Glasgow on a free transfer for Blackburn Rovers, signed by Kenny Dalglish.
1995: Goes on loan to Swindon over two separate periods, making five appearances as they win Division 2.
1996: Moves to Sunderland on loan, making 17 appearances and helping the club to promotion to the Premier League.
1997: Joins Newcastle in a £1.5m deal -- signed by Dalglish once again (below)
2009: After 12 years and 354 appearances, Given signs for Manchester City in a £7m transfer, penning a four-and-a-half year deal.
2011: Signs for Villa for £3.5m on a five-year contract.
Did you know?
Shay's father played as a goalkeeper until the age of 48.
No 1 at 40
Shay Given's predecessor at Aston Villa has been snapped up by Tottenham on a two-year deal, despite turning 40 last May. The American 'keeper has been playing in the Premier League since joining Liverpool back in 1997 and his reputation seems to be improving with age.
Edwin van der Sar
The Manchester United goalkeeper hung up his gloves at the end of last season at the age of 40 after winning the Premier League and coming up short in the Champions League final against Barcelona. Alex Ferguson tried to change his mind, but the former Dutch international was not for turning.
The former England No 1 turns 41 next month but is still top dog at Championship club Bristol City. Lost his international spot before last year's World Cup, but Bristol have extended his contract for another season.
The former Nottingham Forest and Derby man only retired in 1997 after 125 caps and 1,005 club appearances at the age of 47. He was 40 when Kevin Sheedy beat him in Italia '90 and only left the big stage when his stint as player-manager at Derby ended in 1992.
The legendary Northern Ireland international retired after the 1986 World Cup, which he played in at the age of 41 after spending a year in the Spurs reserves -- making five first-team appearances -- to keep him sharp.
The Italian legend won a World Cup at 40 and kept going for club -- at Juventus -- and country until his 42nd year, becoming the oldest Serie A player in history in the process. He failed to go out on a high as the Old Lady finished runners up in his final season.