Tuesday 24 October 2017

I'm not happy to sit on the bench. I want to play every game - Given

Shay Given playing outfield with Keith Treacy (right) during yesterday’s training session in Malahide. Photo: PA
Shay Given playing outfield with Keith Treacy (right) during yesterday’s training session in Malahide. Photo: PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE irony was obvious to Shay Given. Here he was, at a makeshift press conference in a Malahide dressing-room, placed in a position that he is desperate to avoid. With his backside firmly planted on a bench.

"Just sitting here talking to guys is hard enough," he admitted, with a wry grin. "I wouldn't say I'd be happy enough to sit on the bench all season and watch the guys play. "I'm 34 and you cherish every year, every game really, and you don't want to miss any football so, for me, it's very important."

Age might have accelerated Given's desire to escape Manchester City if he finds himself behind Joe Hart in the pecking order at White Hart Lane this weekend, but it would be wrong to believe that the curse of transience is the sole reason why he chose to deliver such a clear threat to Roberto Mancini and his employers yesterday.


Throughout his career, the Donegal man has retained the belief that he should always be No 1 and never shied from broadcasting it.

Ten years ago, when he returned from an injury lay-off at Newcastle and wasn't immediately restored to his regular berth between the sticks, he took evasive action and slapped in a written transfer request.

There was no messing around then. Soon enough, he was back in the team, with Steve Harper left to grin and bear it. It was an act of protest rather than dissent, and it worked.

It's the kind of thing that a callow youth would be castigated for; it's different when you have a bit of stature and know that you're good enough to justify any actions. Given is a popular character, not someone who shouts out for the sake of it, but when his authority is threatened, his territory is marked.

For the majority of his career, he's been indispensable to both club and country, so it's understandable that he should be irked by the possibility of losing his place to Joe Hart, until recently the third-choice 'keeper for a country that would kill to have somebody with Given's prowess. Hart's credentials remain a source of some debate.

By extension, the most interesting aspect of Given's observations yesterday was his refusal to dismiss a suggestion that the youngster's nationality -- combined with England's yearning for a top-class 'keeper -- is a factor in the calls for his promotion into the City first XI.

"I don't know. I suppose, I don't want to say too much on that," he replied, before adding, "but you have a strong point there."

You can't imagine Robbie Keane, for example, agreeing publicly with such a suggestion related to his own foibles, even if he believed it to be the case.

Given shuns the temptation to play it safe when it comes to the media relations handbook. He made no secret of his disappointment when Mark Hughes was shown the door by City and, rewinding the clock back to 2002, there was no disguising his support for Mick McCarthy in the Saipan debate.

Nobody could point the finger at Given for doing so either, considering there was a school of thought which argued that his heroics ranked alongside those of Roy Keane in booking Ireland's place in that World Cup.

Keane is responsible for one of the most repeated criticisms of his old team-mate. Specifically, that Given's desire for caps suggests a degree of selfishness, although it's always been a curious line of attack in an era where the commitment of top players to their international team is continually questioned.

Indeed, the argument that Given is only loyal to himself is contradicted by his unwavering support for some of his former managers and, more pertinently, the manner in which he steadfastly refused to move from Newcastle when others jumped from the sinking ship.

The period spent on the sidelines after Marlon Harewood's horror challenge inflicted car-crash injuries gave him time to reflect on his career.

The move to City was supposed to offer a path to the Champions League and silverware that eluded him as he toiled away in the North East.

When Newcastle did reach an FA Cup final, in 1999, he was oddly overlooked in favour of Harper, a decision that summed up the last days of Ruud Gullit's tenure. Moving to City after their significant cash injection was an act derived from the realisation that he was running out of time to dine at the top table.

"I know I'm at a very exciting club, a very ambitious club with great owners and great ambition to win trophies," he says. "That's why I went there in the first place. I haven't gone there to take it easy and put my feet up. I'm an ambitious person and I want to play.

"It's not ideal, obviously. You want to know, I suppose mentally, whether or not you're starting. I don't know what the manager's thoughts are because he hasn't spoken to us, so I don't know."

Considering City's goalkeeper shortage during the business end of last season, it is put to Given that they are unlikely to be accommodating when it comes to facilitating any departure.

"Yeah, possibly," he said. "I don't know what they're going to say, to be honest to you. They let Joe go on loan last year to play games, so I don't know. It's purely guesswork at the minute."

Yet with every syllable, the old pro who knows how to play the game will have been aware just how his words would be interpreted. "From a young age you just want to play football," he said. "It doesn't matter how old you are or what you've done or haven't done.

"You just want to play in every game. That's the bottom line with me."

Irish Independent

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