Sunday 22 April 2018

Daniel McDonnell: Russian row could be the making of McGeady

Aideen McGeedy looks like he's leaving Spartak Moscow
Aideen McGeedy looks like he's leaving Spartak Moscow
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IN normal circumstances, the news that an important Irish player has been banished from his club's first-team squad and placed on the transfer list would be cause for serious concern. For Aiden McGeady, however, the timing couldn't have worked out much better.

Last January, injury scuppered his chance to secure the move to England he craved, with Roberto Martinez keen to bring the winger to Wigan until fitness issues intervened.

Twelve months on, McGeady could potentially attract a better employer, with the fact that his contract is winding down meaning that Spartak are in no position to play hardball when it comes to a fee.

Reports from Russia would suggest that coach Valeri Karpin will be glad to see the back of the 27-year-old, although the manager is under a fair bit of pressure himself.

The Spartak fans, however, may not feel the same way as they unveiled a banner during yesterday's win over Volga Nizhny Novgorod to show their appreciation for McGeady's efforts.

Stories travelling from east to west tend frequently gain added detail in translation, an issue that McGeady has tackled on international duty when presented with questions on the latest reports from Moscow.

There are contrasting versions of the reasons behind his latest scrap with Karpin but there appeared to be no confusion about the bottom line – his days there are numbered.

Martin O'Neill is unlikely to be worried at the suggestion that McGeady is in poor physical condition as he saw first hand that the player was in good health when he produced fine back-to-back displays in the new manager's opening double-header with Latvia and Poland.

Nor will the Ireland boss be surprised at a version of events which involved a forthright exchange of views in a dressing-room.

After his first training session as Ireland manager, O'Neill invited the information that McGeady was still as 'crabbit' as ever, a word which is Scottish slang for grumpy and miserable.

It must be noted that it was said with affection. O'Neill enjoys working with players that have quirks, possibly because he's got quite a few of his own, and the teenager he brought through at Celtic is a naturally spiky character.

Quite a few journalists have experienced the Glaswegian's short fuse on a bad day. But that's what makes him more interesting subject matter than your average footballer.

Sometimes, the players that are too eager to court the press struggle to mask their insincerity. The edgier ones don't bother to disguise their true feelings which, in many ways, is a testament to their honesty.

VALUE

When McGeady opens up, his words have value and he is a more rounded character than the petulant pro described by Karpin.

While the opportunity that arose in Moscow in 2010 was extremely lucrative, with Russian tax laws boosting his take-home pay, it was nevertheless a brave departure for a 24-year-old.

Other players have shunned the temptation to taste a different culture because of their fears about the language and lifestyle.

McGeady made a good impression on the locals initially by trying to learn the lingo and adapt to his new environs.

Indeed, the Russian media made a presentation to him at Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifier in Moscow for his efforts at mastering the native tongue because so few foreigners who pass through their league bother trying.

The overall experiment was worth it but after sticking it out for three years, it's apparent that it has run its course, regardless of what happens to Karpin between now and January.

McGeady has taken plenty of flak during his international career, but you get the sense that one of his harshest critics is the man he faces in the mirror every morning, and he has indicated that a fresh start is required.

It's highly unusual for Ireland to have a player with 63 caps that has never played in the Premier League and while the group would be enhanced if others expanded their horizons, the moment is right for McGeady to taste England's top level.

Although there are plenty of miles on his clock, he has got years ahead of him and the intensity of the top flight across the water should help to sharpen up the decision-making and the flaws that have stunted his progress.

With O'Neill an admirer, he will be given every opportunity to make a difference in the Euros campaign – the Latvian match served as a window for what is possible, with McGeady deployed as a winger yet frequently cutting inside to support the strikers.

The change in approach and the presence of Wes Hoolahan allowed Ireland to press higher up the pitch and utilise McGeady on the ball in the right areas, whereas under Trapattoni he felt burdened by defensive duties.

He has admitted that Irish fans haven't seen the best of him, while it's true that many fear they have already seen the best. But after growing up at Celtic and spending a couple of years at a basket-case club in a constant state of transition, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Relocation to England and the firm backing of O'Neill could be the start of an exciting chapter. In time, we may view last week's clash with Karpin as the best fight he has ever had.

Irish Independent

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