Editor’s Note: It was an odd, intermixing week for American and British Isle footie. Midweek, the historic club Glasgow Rangers of the beleaguered Scottish Premiere League made successful for two Americans, Alejandro Bedoya and Carlos Bocanegra. A play for stateside revenue as much for competition.
Today–after news leaked out a week ago–the venerable Robbie Keane–Mr. Ireland–official is unveiled as Bruce Arena’s newest weapon up top for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In a fascinating way, one player–for Ireland–ties those two moves together.
Aiden McGeady. McGeady is the heady and dangerous Ireland attacker who many think will one day usurp Robbie Keane’s role on the national team. Continually, McGeady, prior to a move to the nether reaches of Russia, cut his teeth in the SPL and per the player himself fled to avoid the fishbowl effect of playing under the Old Firm microscope.
And now we welcome Irish writer RONAN QUINN with his first examination on TSG.
Aiden McGeady, Ireland’s Finest?
It is fast approaching a year since Aiden McGeady left Celtic, and the frenzy that surrounds the Old Firm in Glasgow, for the Russian capital. In that time, he has secured a definite starting berth in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland team on the left side of the field, while impressing Russian fans and European suitors alike playing on the right wing. Is he finally becoming the player Ireland had hoped for and fulfilling his massive potential?
And firstly, why all the fuss?
Well, his natural talent has been obvious to any Scottish Premier League observer since he emerged onto the scene with a debut goal against Hearts. Other European fans may have witnessed his Champions League debut against AC Milan which caught the eye more notably, coming against illustrious names like Costacurta, Maldini and Nesta. Not bad at eighteen years of age.
It was no surprise then, that following the sale of Shaun Maloney, he became a main contributor for Celtic in the following seasons. The team won three consecutive league titles, while McGeady’s individual flourish earned him both Scottish player of the Year and Young Player of the Year in the same season. McGeady was also impressing on a bigger scale with massive performances against Benfica and AC Milan in the Champions League. He recorded incredible stats in 2007-2008 scoring 8 goals and making 24 assists. Lionel Messi himself even took time to praise McGeady stating, “Aiden McGeady is a fast and skilful winger and someone I rate highly. He’d be successful anywhere in Europe.”
As the greatest deity of modern football rightly points out, McGeady is fast and skilful. He has more tricks and treats than Halloween, is good with either foot and is not a bad finisher by any means. Add to that his incredible balance and you have a very talented player.
Despite all of this, McGeady still had his fair share of critics. And there are valid criticisms to be made. Questions have always been raised about McGeady’s defensive qualities, or lack thereof. At times for Celtic he showed no interest in tracking back with an opposition player at all, and was rarely seen on the defensive end. One could argue that it is not his job to defend and he could be afforded creative license, but the fact is that, in every team he has played in he has been asked to work defensively, and it is a perceived lack of effort prohibiting him.
This brings us nicely onto Trapattoni, and McGeady’s performances for the Irish national team. Most of you familiar with Trapattoni will know he requests two-way footballers in every position, and he demands his team be solid first and foremost. This lead the Italian to drop McGeady from the line-up at the end of the World Cup Qualifying Campaign for the ridiculous Stephen Hunt, whose work ethic was preferred as it far exceeds normal human capabilities. Clearly something to be improved upon for McGeady.
Another flaw that can be found in McGeady’s game is his decision making. This may seem like an outrageous statement given the player’s statistics, but it is something that can still be seen in his play. Often times he delays passes, passes up goal-scoring opportunities and fails to deliver a final cross, much more so for Ireland than at club level. He also has a tendency to drift out of the game at times when Ireland could use some relief work from his flank.
Compare this to the talismanic goal-scoring of Robbie Keane for example, who always seems to deliver for his country, and McGeady has a way to go.
He has yet to find truly consistent, dazzling form for Ireland, even his sparking numbers at club level have deserted him at international level, with his one goal coming earlier this year against Macedonia. This is not to say he has been playing badly for Ireland though, and he has managed to cement his place in Gio’s team over the last year, perhaps reflecting a discipline added to his game since his move to Russia. He has certainly performed in the Russian League stats wise, averaging a goal or assist every other game and voted as Russia’s second best winger last year, despite only playing half a season.
But why Spartak Moscow?
He reportedly decided to take the move to Moscow in an attempt to escape the “goldfish bowl” of life in Glasgow and unwanted attention from both sides of the community. Hardly surprising given the vociferous support for both sides of the Old Firm. McGeady mentioned he couldn’t walk down the street in Glasgow without receiving abuse from someone. Anonymity was certainly more likely in Moscow. As well as this, the money earned in Russia, is on occasion staggering (see Samuel Eto’o and his proposed move to Anzhi) and hardly taxed which would also have been hugely attractive to any player.
Spartak Moscow have also been making an impact in European competition in recent years, something that Celtic have been finding increasingly difficult. Indeed, since Zenit’s run to the 2008 final in which they defeated the Old Firm rival Rangers, Russian performers in Europe have far exceeded their Scottish counterparts. A guaranteed run in Europe may well have been a huge incentive. Finally, the Russian league is a step up in standard from Scotland, no doubt, but for McGeady to develop into the player he could be, his next move will be the most crucial. Premier league teams have been linked, such as Liverpool and Aston Villa, and it may be then when we find out just how good he can be.
Questions are often raised about the quality of the the SPL in response to an apparent lack of interest in someone like McGeady from the English Premier League, although Aston Villa did offer before his move to Russia. However, McGeady consistently impressed against the European elite in the Champions League, notably AC Milan and Barcelona, which acted as a reassurance for doubters of the SPL. His move to Spartak is perhaps more indicative of a shift in power between the Old Firm and Russia’s top clubs, rather than the Scottish Premier League’s worldwide reputation.
Russia may well be a stepping stone to the biggest move of his career; however McGeady has yet to make noises about leaving. His next move will be absolutely monuments for him as he approaches the peak of his career. Where it will be to remains to be seen. Perhaps we will only find the real potential fulfilled in a move to England or Spain. However, he may make his career in Russia playing and impressing in European competition. In fact, in the time I’ve been working on this piece Zenit have reportedly made a €34 million bid for his services, a fee unlike any an Irish player has ever commanded.
Which brings me back to the theme of this piece. Aiden McGeady is an exception. Neither Ireland or the SPL produce man players with his ability. It is why he stands out, and why he stood out when he emerged as a youngster, daring to play freely on the giant stage the UEFA Champions League provided him. So…
Ireland’s finest? Perhaps in natural talent.
He is a player who is exciting to watch, has always been able to beat people and commit defenders, excite fans. Add to this his fantastic statistics and perhaps he is the best Irish player for his club right now, given Shay Given and Robbie Keane have recently moved clubs. However, he has a long way to go to match the finest performers in an Ireland shirt, considering the contributions of Given, Keane and Richard Dunne for the last ten years of international soccer. If any young Irishman has the potential to rival these players importance to the Irish national team though, it is Aiden McGeady.