Comment: Today was the day that Robbie Brady showed he truly belongs in the Premier League
Long into the future, when retirement comes knocking on Robbie Brady’s career in football, the glowing tributes that centre on that goal in Lille will draw a line in his career when a road diverged in front of the 25-year-old and he chose to realise his true potential.
There will be Robbie Brady before last summer’s European Championships and the Robbie Brady afterwards. The competition did more to mould the future path of his career than anything else; it put him on display in front of a worldwide audience for four games, and he stood the test.
Brady demonstrated his ability was on-par with the elite players of Europe: Sweden, Belgium, Italy, France - Pogba, Dembele and Motta, with today’s free-kick against title favourites Chelsea crystallising in one sweeping motion the fact that his ability ranges far beyond Norwich City and the Championship, but at the top-tier of European football.
Brady and Jeff Hendrick have epitomised the new era of Martin O’Neill’s passing, non-conservative football-playing side which qualified for Euro 2016, got to the tournament's knockout stages, won four out of six points in qualification against world champions Germany and who are currently top of Group D in qualifying for Russia 2018 with three wins from four.
A haunting contrast exists between the chasing-shadow performances of Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan versus Croatia, Spain and Italy at Euro 2012 in Poland and the evocative confidence of Hendrick and Brady to dribble, pass and manoeuvre chances in the final third in France in 2016.
The Irish footballing public were left in a state of disappointment that Brady’s displays in France last summer could not do enough to earn him a move to the Premier League; with Norwich relegated to the Championship he would join Wes Hoolahan in the second tier knowing they had played as equals with Champions League regulars just a couple of months previous.
But with 2017’s move to Burnley, Brady will join childhood friend Hendrick in rekindling the magic and romance of France, but this time in the top tier. There is a satisfying sense of justice that Brady got his move, following difficult early stints at Manchester United and Hull City.
On Sunday afternoon, in one sweeping motion of his left boot he managed to come full circle; from the frustrating lack of first team opportunities at Old Trafford, to rattling Antonio Conte for a second time in his career with his free-kick swinging into the top of Thibaut Courtois’ net.
In the process earning the affection of his new fan base at Turf Moor and simultaneously taking two points away from the league leaders.
Brady’s goal has earned him the plaudits and recognition many have felt he has deserved for much, much longer. He is now the established, Premier League and international stalwart Ireland has been hoping he could be for so long.
It began at Euro 2016, and now Robbie Brady can build on the reality of his promise.
There will be no more what if’s, ill-feeling or wishing to be someone else because right now, just like when he guided the ball past Salvatore Sirigu to earn Ireland its place in the knockout stages of Euro 2016, Robbie Brady is at the centre of the universe.