Sunday 25 February 2018

Lack of matches sparks Given into shock Irish return

SHAY GIVEN'S bleak situation at Aston Villa has paved the way for a return to international football just five months after he quit Irish duty to concentrate on his club career.

The Donegal man will speak with Giovanni Trapattoni this week after the Italian indicated that he would be happy to welcome the country's most capped player back into the international fold.

Given called time on his national service in August, still sore from a miserable experience at Euro 2012 and conscious that, with four years left on his contract, he should devote himself fully to Villa.

"Little did I know that I would be on the bench there after the first two Premier League games of the season," said Given yesterday as it emerged that he is prepared to add to his haul of 125 caps.

It remains to be seen what his replacement, Keiren Westwood, makes of this turnaround.

The Manchester-born netminder has performed reasonably well in Given's absence, despite conceding six goals in the home thrashing at the hands of Germany, but he also finds himself sitting on the bench for his club.

Simon Mignolet is the established number one at Sunderland and Westwood admitted recently that he might need to get out on loan next month with a view to preserving his Irish position.

At that juncture, however, he could not have anticipated a comeback from Given, who had previously stressed that he would only come back in case of an emergency.

A miserable first half of the season has prompted a turnaround in the Donegal man's thinking.

Given finds himself in a difficult situation. Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert has placed the emphasis on youth and is keen to cut costs, particularly with so many high earners in his dressing-room.

It's understood that Given, who earns in excess of £60,000 a week, earns almost four times as much as current first-choice 'keeper Brad Guzan.

Hull have enquired on more than one occasion about signing the 36-year-old on loan, but those advances were knocked back by Lambert, who says he wants to keep both of his goalkeepers. That leaves Given in a tight spot if the Scot is intent on sticking with Guzan.

Sources close to the veteran believe that Villa might be trying to back Given into a situation where leaving permanently is the only attractive option. Considering the extraordinary length of his contract, however, it will be hard to find a suitor who is willing to match that deal at this stage of his journey.

That opens up the possibility that the only football he could play between now and the end of the campaign is in the cup competitions, with Villa's progress to the semi-finals of the League Cup illustrating his well-being.

Given looked a shadow of himself during the European Championship and now acknowledges that injury could have been a factor.

It may well be the case that Westwood finds it easier to secure regular football in January, with Martin O'Neill seemingly more sympathetic towards his goalkeeper's plight than Lambert is to Given's.


Should the 28-year-old arrive for the March World Cup qualifiers with more games under his belt than Given, then Trapattoni will face a dilemma.

It would make no sense for Given to come out of retirement to sit on the bench in a different setting so if Trapattoni does call him into the squad for the February friendly with Poland and the crunch meetings with Sweden and Austria, it would suggest that Westwood will take a back seat.

That will be a difficult conversation, although Trap seldom gets too emotional about these things.

Meanwhile, Given's good pal Richard Dunne is in a better position to escape from Villa after the New York Red Bulls made a serious approach for his services.

Dunne is out of contract at the end of the season, and has yet to play this term due to recurring groin problems.

The Dubliner, who is hoping that a recent operation in the US has cured the injury, needs to prove his well-being to the MLS club before the close of the January transfer window.

The Red Bulls would want Villa to let the experienced defender leave for free six months ahead of schedule.

Either way, Trapattoni is keen to have the Tallaght man back in his team for the seismic showdown in Stockholm.

Improbably, he could have Given in goals behind him.

Irish Independent

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