Wednesday 24 January 2018

Memory of a night in Georgia only crystallises McGeady's frustration

Aiden McGeady has played just 45 minutes of football for his club this season. Photo: Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Aiden McGeady has played just 45 minutes of football for his club this season. Photo: Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

You'd swap places with Aiden McGeady wouldn't you? In an eye-blink, right?

There's no whirlwind of bile that would faze you when cushioned by that kind of wealth. You'd brave the serrated voices, audible as you drove out of the training ground. You'd ignore the spittle-soaked radio phone-ins. The sarcasm on Twitter.

On a reputed £60,000 a week, you reckon you could live with more bad noise than anything football can throw.

It's not ideal, agreed. He's played just 45 minutes of football for his club in the 22 weeks of the season so far. That's £1.3 million for half a League Cup game against Barnsley. Worse, he got taken off at half-time, football's equivalent of being sent home from school with a note for your parents.

Aiden McGeady makes people angry. He surely knows that. There's no wall high enough, no triple-glazing dense enough to insulate him from that understanding.

He's become the whizz pianist who woke up one morning with tone deaf fingers. The genius who'd forgotten how to play. Everton will loan him out to anyone prepared to sign that weekly cheque now, but it seems that nobody will. He's so far down the dressing-room pecking order, he can barely see the team-sheet let alone make it.

He needs to leave, that's crystal clear. If he doesn't, who can honestly see Martin O'Neill handing him a boarding card for France next summer? And McGeady will be 30 when the Euro finals start.

Candour

Last November, Stephen Hunt said an interesting thing in his 'Sunday Independent' column. He wrote that McGeady was "living on his reputation from his Celtic days", that he needed to go somewhere "tough".

It's not often you get such candour from one footballer talking about another, particularly a former team-mate. But Hunt's words articulated the broad impatience with McGeady. The sense of a man's career being unworthy of his talent.

Reading between the lines, you could all but detect Hunt thinking, 'If only the Almighty had given me the gift of those quicksilver feet...'

Remember Tbilisi last September 12 months? Those two sublime McGeady goals that beat Georgia, the second one all but spirited down from an artist's loft? The memory of that night only crystallises the frustration. The mystery too.

"No other player on the field could have done that," gushed O'Neill after.

And, Lord above, he knew. It was O'Neill who gave him his first team debut for Celtic as a 17-year-old with the simple instruction to "run riot".

Back then, McGeady looked like the oil well that every football club yearns to find in its own back garden. He'd signed a boot deal with adidas at just 15. He'd turned down interest from Arsenal and Manchester United.

Inevitably, his gifts found comparison - as every Celtic winger's must - with the legendary Jimmy Johnstone. Defenders knew what McGeady was going to do, yet couldn't stop it. That double flick of the foot worked like a magical lock release.

Creative players are, inevitably, erratic and he could have his invisible days too. But there was something sparky and irreverent about McGeady that endeared him to the East End throng. If every Old Firm game was a Broadway play, vicious and hopelessly unhinged, he looked like he had the steel to cope. .

Every away fixture exposed him to the incandescence of people reading his allegiance to Ireland as betrayal, the Scottish FA having painted him as an opportunist. It was untrue but he fronted up to it, lived with what that threw at him. There is an old video available on YouTube of a nine-year-old McGeady flicking a ball over and back to his dad, John, in front of the family home.

In it, he wears an Irish shirt about three sizes too big for him.

John, a former Sheffield United winger, explains how Aiden grew up with "a very rich heritage of Irish culture, passed down from father to son and from aunts to uncles".

Much of his time playing for Celtic ignored that truth. It just ran to a ceaselessly angry soundtrack. Yet, he won eight trophies including four League titles and, in '08, became only the second player to win both the Footballer of the Year and Young Player of the Year trophies in one season. This was no soft kid. No coward.

His subsequent £9.5 million move to Spartak Moscow helped bankroll a major rebuilding programme at Parkhead. So Celtic did well out of McGeady.

But that's when big money came into his life (reputedly £75,000 a week) and who can resist the temptation to see in that some kind of tidy parable of wealth subsuming hunger?

We saw little of his football in Russia, though he played almost a hundred games for Spartak. He was, it's probably fair to surmise, neither a huge success nor a conspicuous failure.

But the move to Everton in January of 2014 promised some kind of deliverance. As Roberto Martinez said on signing him, "Aiden beats men, very few can do that!"

It hasn't happened often enough though. Supporters inevitably bristle at expensive flops and, in McGeady's case, there seems no avenue to redemption at Goodison.

Now it probably needs to be said that he's not Lance Armstrong either. If sport feels full of bribery and drugs these days, it's important to say that McGeady's only 'sin' has been to lose his form.

There's been no suggestion of unprofessional conduct. No hint of any training-ground discord.

Antique

Trouble is, Aiden will soon be an antique if he's not careful. It's not enough to do something special once every comet and expect the football world to curtsy at your feet. The game's just got too many mouths to feed.

Right now, there's not a Premier League team interested and, clearly, no-one in the Championship (or Scotland) could ever countenance his salary. He has, then, three weeks to find a solution. And, without a dramatic drop in pay, there isn't one.

There's a huge, angel tattoo on McGeady's upper left arm above the Latin inscription 'Crede quod habes, et habes', meaning "Believe that you have it and you have it."

When he looks at that today, he needs to know it's maybe telling him a lie.

Irish Independent

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