Time for Brady to rediscover his mojo
Fallout from injury threatens Dubliner's bid to prove a point against former club United
IT will be an unhappy Christmas for Robbie Brady if he misses today's date with his Manchester United because of the injury that has ended a year of progress on a low note.
A St Stephen's Day showdown with his former employers was the perfect opportunity for the young Dubliner to show United fans that he deserved a proper chance in their colours before being sold to Hull last January.
Instead, he's entered the festive period in an unfortunate situation, with manager Steve Bruce publicly querying if the real problem surrounding a groin issue was in the player's head.
If United had reservations about Brady's ability to impact at the top end of the Premier League, they have no such doubts in Hull. Instead, questions are being asked about his aptitude to cope with a frustrating setback that has halted a season which started so promisingly as the talented attacking midfielder, tipped for greatness in his teenage years, began to demonstrate his potential.
He made it as far as the fringes of the first-team squad at Old Trafford without ever really looking like making a big breakthrough. In Alex Ferguson's last pre-season in charge, he trialled at left-full on the summer tour and then made a four-minute League Cup appearance at wing-back against Newcastle.
It was his prodigious attacking talent as a schoolboy with St Kevin's Boys that had scouts fighting over his services but, after seeing off Liam Brady's Arsenal, United management couldn't find room for the player in his favoured position once he reached maturity.
"Robbie is a really good kid," says Mike Phelan, who was Ferguson's assistant when the decision was made to sell Brady on, a turn of events that was instigated by the youngster's desire to find out where he stood.
"He worked hard, he trained well, and it was just a fact of where can you position people and give them regular football. You can give them 45 minutes or an hour in a game but United -- to get that continuity of player -- you have Evra or Nani and even Giggsy who is still playing... they are playing so well that they are keeping the likes of Robbie Brady out of the side.
"It's a difficult call but the biggest call that Robbie made was moving. It was the correct call too. That has to be driven by the player sometimes. Young players are not stupid and they know when there is an opportunity, when there's a gap, you might have to take it.
"Players like that know you can't wait that long in football. Once you're at that point of flying you have to get it and Robbie was definitely one for flying and getting in the team and he's done terrific at Hull, definitely."
Phelan acknowledges that Brady was a little miffed to be viewed as a defensive option, even if the modern full-back must have the skills to hurt the opposition in their half too. The player articulated his concerns in discussions with staff.
"To be honest, there was an opening there at full-back for a player like Robbie," continues Phelan. "I'm not saying he didn't see it that way, but he probably felt 'that is not my right position'.
"You don't look back on it as a mistake (selling him) and if you ask Robbie Brady he will probably feel it's the best thing he ever did, to get out and ply his trade and play regular football. Robbie can be what he wants to be.
"He needed to express himself far more and be given the opportunity. At United, you are competing for that one position every day and it's tough. So the move for him was fantastic. I don't think I've seen a happier lad to get the opportunity to move and play and get regular football and he has taken it."
Ironically enough, under Bruce, Brady has been asked to fill in at left wing-back, with his versatility both a blessing and a curse. When a gap appears, the Hull boss knows that the Baldoyle lad can fill a number of holes.
He broke the Irish U-21 international goalscoring records by operating behind the striker, although he can also operate on either flank. Giovanni Trapattoni was immediately impressed by his confidence, and willingness to shoot at goal.
"He's a little bit cocky at times," said the Italian, who subsequently grew a little frustrated by his defensive contribution as a winger and also his decision-making. "He needs to understand when he can dribble and when he must play it simple."
His confidence was instantly noted by senior Irish players and, at Hull, he is comfortable with responsibility, scoring the only goal from the spot in their win over Norwich this season. Given his usual spark, Bruce was alarmed when Brady marked his return from a hernia operation with an abject display in the home defeat to Crystal Palace.
While he contributed positively to the dismissal of Liverpool, he complained of recurring pain and was confined to sub appearances against Arsenal and Stoke before missing the weekend draw with West Brom completely.
"It's a worry for us," said Bruce. "He had an operation and he's not really recovered from that. We now need to go down a different route, explore it and make sure he's right. Robbie can give us something going forward; we need our big players to be playing."
Considering the plethora of 'next big things' who never make the grade anywhere, Brady has succeeded where others have failed by becoming an important top-flight player. He still has a point to prove, however, and this is the day to do it.
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