Steven Reid: 'It just pisses me off when people harp on about me being unlucky'
He's had his share of setbacks but things are working out well for Steven Reid, as he tells Richard Sadlier
Sitting by our hotel pool in Barbados in the summer of 2003, Steven Reid and I looked ahead to the coming season with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and fear.
We thought the coming months would be significant for us both. He was the player Premier League clubs wanted. I had a chance too, but first I had to get fit. And I was worried I would never be fit again.
We knew our days together at Millwall could be coming to an end and by September we were proved right. His Premier League debut with Blackburn Rovers came ten days before I retired.
Last Monday morning, Reid signed a two-year extension to his contract at West Brom, even though he has been nursing an ankle injury since March. Several hours later, we met up in a Manchester hotel to reflect on all that has happened since that afternoon by the pool.
There was only one place to start, as tomorrow Giovanni Trapattoni names his Irish squad for the Euros.
Reid's Ireland career ended with his decision to retire in July 2010, but in reality it had finished over nine months earlier.
Trapattoni had publicly dismissed his chances of recovering from knee surgery and of ever returning to that level again. Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce reacted angrily, demanding a public apology for both Reid and the club for comments he dismissed as "drivel and nonsense".
There was no apology in public. There wasn't even contact in private. "He maybe could have picked up the phone, but I'm not gonna sit at home crying 'cos he didn't".
Despite calls from Alan Kelly and Liam Brady at the time, Reid remained unimpressed. "You know, the old language barrier one probably came out. It shouldn't have got to that stage really"
Trapattoni, he says, "was bang out of order in what he said about my injury and it would be hard to forgive him for that at that time," yet he was wary of upsetting Trapattoni himself and was happy to let Allardyce do the talking. "That's what he does, he looks after his players and is not scared of upsetting people if it's right."
He still wanted to play for Ireland no matter how Trapattoni had upset him. "Sometimes you've just gotta get on with it and try and prove people wrong, get back fit and get back playing. That's the only way you can put these sorts of comments to bed." He did just that and made a full recovery, but there was no recall to the squad. The implications of Trapattoni's comments became clear over time.
While injuries had disrupted his progress to that point (he made only three appearances in the whole of the 2006/'07 season), he felt he had arrived in September 2008 following his performances away against Norway, Montenegro and Georgia.
"I felt I bossed the games I played in the middle of the park," he says now. While the central midfield pairing of Trapattoni's teams are often vilified by the public and the media, Reid thoroughly enjoyed the role. "I loved it. Because I was a deep central midfielder, I was getting the ball virtually every attack. Get on the ball, start the play off, get passing it, so I loved it".
But even then he knew he was in trouble. "I was half-fit then as well. That's when I was really struggling with the knee." He underwent surgery in Colorado, playing only four games in the whole of the '08/'09 season. He knew he was not in Sam Allardyce's plans when he returned. A loan spell with QPR in November '09 ended after just two games.
"I played the 90 minutes and I was way off it. I didn't train all week to let the knee settle down. Played the second game and done my hamstring." Approaching the final months of his contract, he was just desperate to play.
Blackburn offered to pay his full wage if he went out on loan, a generous offer reflecting his seven years of service to the club. He signed for Roberto Di Matteo's West Brom in March 2010 for the remainder of the season. He had a good relationship with Di Matteo but was surprised to see him in charge at Chelsea so soon after being sacked by West Brom, although after all that's happened since he has changed his mind. "To be honest, it'd be a bit of a disgrace if he didn't get that job now given that he's beaten Barcelona."
When he joined West Brom they were a Championship club, and his loan deal was made permanent a week after they won promotion two months later. The most difficult chapter of his career had come to an end. Three weeks later, he announced his retirement from international football. "I wanted to make sure the body was right, and get my career back on track".
Despite the way things finished for him with Ireland, Reid remains full of admiration for everything Trapattoni has achieved, and dismisses any criticism of the players. Drawing on comparisons with West Brom's standing in the league, he suggests a more pragmatic appraisal of their style. "I'd rather have a few scrappy wins and results and stay in the Premier League, than play great football, get a pat on the back and go down," he says.
Reid is optimistic about the squad's prospects. "You've got to say Spain are the favourites," he says, "they're the favourites to go through. I don't think Italy are the force they were; Croatia, they're winnable games. It's Spain and one other. I wouldn't say Ireland are any less or more favourites than Italy or Croatia, I think they're gonna have a good go."
Appearing in the finals of the 2002 World Cup is still his proudest achievement in football, but he thinks that squad doesn't get the praise it deserved either. "Most of the questions are always about Saipan and not how well the team did and how we should have progressed after hammering Spain in the last 16. The team were unbelievable."
Despite captaining Ireland against Holland in 2006 and winning 23 caps under four different managers, he openly admits he could have done more to fulfil the early promise of his international career. Despite public hints of interest in a return, the need to look after his fitness remains the priority. Because he didn't rule it out during recent interviews, there was speculation he was hoping for a call.
"It was more a case of there being a major injury crisis ahead of the Euros and I got a phone call. How could you say no to going to another major tournament? How could I have?"
Heading into what will be his tenth year in the Premier League, he looks back with regret at how he handled his first. "It's a different level from being in that Millwall dressing room, to being in one with Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. Sometimes it can take a little while to feel like you deserve it. And first and foremost you've gotta perform otherwise the lads aren't gonna have you anyway. But yeah, it did take me a little while to settle in there and that's probably my biggest regret, that if I had the mentality I have now then, it wouldn't have been a problem.
"I think it was just fear of failure, maybe. It was probably a lack of confidence at that time. I think you need to feel you are a part of it. You know it was a big move and I think I was just in awe of the place a bit too much for that first year. It took me a little while to settle in."
He began to work with a sports psychologist and advises all sportspeople to do the same. The pressures of playing in the Premier League appear to be increasing year on year, he says, with the introduction of Prozone having a considerable impact. Every element of a player's performance is recorded and analysed. "If your stats are not up to it, there's no hiding place."
From where he was only two years ago, things could hardly have worked out better.
"It's the best I've felt for a long time," he says, the new deal a reward for proving his fitness and making the right-back position his own at West Brom. Negotiations were straightforward, unlike some of the earlier deals of his career.
"This is one where you sit down for an hour together, see where we're both at and get something sorted. It was all done in an afternoon."
The ankle injury brought an end to his season following the victory over Chelsea in March but he'll be ready to begin pre-season training in July. A minor setback, but he has learned to appreciate the benefits of the rest. Perhaps because he is talking to me, he acknowledges things could be a great deal worse.
He knows Trapattoni wasn't the only person doubting his prospects, and seems at peace with everything that has happened. For all he has been through, he is defiantly upbeat about a career which brings unwanted sympathy at times from others. "I know people think I've had a few injuries, this and that, but at the same time I've been lucky to have played the games I've played, been to the World Cup, played even one season in the PL. It just pisses me off when people harp on about me being unlucky." It could easily have been so different. "Don't get me wrong, if things hadn't gone well and I hadn't got back playing, I'd be more bitter than I am now."
He had a very short fuse when we played together and it seems he still does. "I can get in a bit of a strop and lose my rag," he says, but it's hard to imagine him being any more content. He knows that could change at any time but is now equipped to adapt if it does.
Roy Hodgson's imminent departure is the latest example. He has nothing but praise for the new England boss, revealing a side kept hidden from the cameras. "He's one of the funniest managers I've ever had. Inside the camp, he can crack the lads up."
He had become a regular in Hodgson's team, and when he signed his deal last Monday it was still unclear whether Hodgson would be in charge next season. I wondered whether it affected his thoughts around signing the contract, but his experience shone through in the reply.
"Fucking too right. I couldn't get into the office quick enough when I heard the gaffer could be off."
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