BOBBY ROBSON has admitted he is baffled as to why Manchester United have never made a bid for Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given. The 29-year-old was last night named as the Eircom FAI International Senior Player of the Year for the first time, just under 10 years after making his debut.
BOBBY ROBSON has admitted he is baffled as to why Manchester United have never made a bid for Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given.
The 29-year-old was last night named as the Eircom FAI International Senior Player of the Year for the first time, just under 10 years after making his debut.
He was a popular winner of the coveted award and his former Newcastle manager, who is now the FAI's International Team Consultant, hailed his contribution.
"Shay Given is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe," said Robson. "He is so consistent, a good boy, a great trainer, good attitude, good pro, never late, a good catcher, a great line saver. He, (Alan) Shearer and (Gary) Speed were the best role models anybody could have.
The 73-year-old was Given's club manager at St James' Park for five seasons and is still astonished that Alex Ferguson never tried to sign the Donegalman given the goalkeeping problems at Old Trafford since the departure of Peter Schmeichel.
"I used to think during my spell at Newcastle, 'why doesn't Alex buy him', not that I wanted Shay to go," admitted Robson.
"If I had been at Manchester United, with all their goalkeeping problems since Schmeichel, I would have asked 'who is the best goalkeeper in the League?'
"The fact that he is Irish is an advantage because there is no language problem. I would have wanted to buy Shay Given but Alex never came and made an offer.
"Look at the goalkeepers that Liverpool had to buy over the years to get a decent one and look at the goalkeepers Man United have had. There was Barthez, Howard, Bosnich, Carroll and Taibi who he sent home because he was not up to it and now Van der Sar. That's six since Schmeichel.
"So you have got Man United, with all its power and all its network of scouts, and once Schmeichel was gone they couldn't find the right guy.
"I think, in Shay, we have the best keeper in the Premiership. I don't believe anybody else, Van Der Sar or the Arsenal goalkeeper (Jens Lehmann), is any where near Shay Given."
Robson said that Given's professionalism and attitude was clearly shown in the way he has tried to improve his kicking.
"One time I thought he was like Charlie Chaplin but he has worked at it. It's been him with the goalkeeping coach rolling balls to him so can improve his technique on the left side which has always been a bit dodgy but he has a good attitude and is a top pro."
From Lifford, Given was first spotted as a 15-year-old in a Lifford Celtic side that reached the semi-finals of the 1992 FAI Junior Cup.
After a spell at Celtic, he joined Blackburn Rovers and had a successful loan spell at Sunderland where he helped them win promotion to the Premiership. When Kenny Dalglish took over at Newcastle he went back to his former club for Given and the goalkeeper has already achieved legendary status on Tyneside.
Given now is vying with Manchester City defender Richard Dunne and Everton midfielder Kevin Kilbane for the captain's armband and new Ireland manager Steve Staunton will announce his decision this week.
But Robson has no doubt that the goalkeeper is an example of the type of player he wants to see in the Ireland squad.
"If we have 22 Shay Givens we are going to win," declared Robson.
Given's selection as Senior Player of the Year is a fitting reward for his performances in eight internationals in 2005 where he produced a series of tremendous displays to ensure that Ireland remained in contention for a World Cup place until the final Group Four qualifier.
His most memorable game came in the 1-0 win over Cyprus in Nicosia where he produced a penalty stop and a string of superb saves to keep Ireland in the game.It says a lot about Ireland's performances in 2005 that the goalkeeper should be a clear winner of the Player of the Year Award.
However, Given has been a strong contender for the last few years when Ireland were more successful.
Sunderland striker Stephen Elliott, who scored his first international goal against Cyprus, won the Young Player of the Year Award. Elliott returned to first team action on Saturday for the first time since November 5 after recovering from a stress fracture of the back but his comeback proved too late to figure in Staunton's plans for Wednesday's game against Sweden.
Reading striker Kevin Doyle, who has scored 15 goals since his arrival from Cork City last June, was named as U21 Player of the Year after setting a new goalscoring record at that level.
Joey O'Brien, who is in the senior squad for the first time, was named as U19 Player of the Year while Anthony Stokes took the U17 award. Nordic Cup hero Donal McDermott took the honours at U16s.
Robbie Keane's only goal in 2005 against Israel on June 4 at Lansdowne Road was enough to see him pip strike partner Clinton Morrison for the Eircom Goal of the Year Award.
International Youth Team manager Sean McCaffrey, currently with the U17 squad in the Algarve, was presented with the Special Merit Award via a video-link while George O'Callaghan took the Eircom League Player of the Year Award and former international Mick Martin joined the Hall of Fame.
The International Personality of the Year Award went to Italian referee Peirluigi Collina but he had to abandon his plans to travel to Dublin after his wife was involved in a car accident in Italy on Saturday.
Today, Staunton will get down to business on the training pitch for the first time since his appointment and has had no withdrawals from his 23-man squad.
Steve Finnan, Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland, Joey O'Brien, Graham Kavanagh and John O'Shea, who were all involved in action yesterday, came through unscathed and will join the rest of the squad for the first training session this afternoon in Malahide.
FAI INTERNATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARDS
Senior: S Given (Newcastle United) Young: S Elliott (Sunderland) U21: K Doyle (Reading) U19: J O'Brien (Bolton Wanderers) U17: A Stokes (Arsenal) U16: D McDermott (Manchester City) Schools: G Deegans (Chanel College and Shelbourne) Junior: D Conroy (Ballymun United) Intermediate: R Beechinor (Rockmount), Women's Senior: M O'Brien (Long Island Lady Riders, USA) Womens U19: N Fahey (Salthill Devon), Football For All: Joe Watson (Irish Deaf Sports and Waterford Crystal), Eircom Goal of the Year: R Keane (v Israel, June 4), Special Merit: Sean McCaffrey Hall of Fame: Mick Martin International Personality of the Year: Pierluigi Collina.