About a Bhoy
Paul Rowan, Irish football correspondent
Aiden McGeady had to make tough decisions at an early age but is now blossoming into an outstanding prospect for Celtic and IrelandA letter sent by the Scottish Football Association, dated September 2, 2002:
Dear Mr and Mrs McGeady, I would like to thank you for your courtesy and honesty during the various calls and the meeting with Bert at Hampden. I know it must not have been an easy few weeks for the McGeady family as Aiden made his decision about his international future. As a parent myself I can sympathise because our role is to guide and offer advice and once our children have made their decision, to support. Nobody can give us that training to cope with the stress of it all. Aiden is a very mature and intelligent young man and is a credit to both of you. Bertie and I are so disappointed that he has chosen the Republic over Scotland, but we respect his decision and wish Aiden every success in his career. Scotland’s loss is the Republic’s gain.
Ross Mathie, International youth team manager
A small piece of Irish footballing history contained in one of the scrapbooks compiled by John McGeady, an English teacher by profession but also a skilled archivist, as a visit to his home last Thursday evening in rain-lashed south Glasgow made clear.
An increasingly rare breed in an industry enveloped by suspicion and secrecy, McGeady was happy to sit back in his living room and open both his scrapbooks and his soul on the achievements of his son, Aiden. Later his 20-year-old son will have his say, but for the time being he has secreted himself elsewhere in the McGeady household, driven out of the room by an innate sense of modesty and reserve.
“Aiden’s quite introverted,” his father says. “It frustrates me at times, because I say to him what little glory I had I loved it. He doesn’t. I think he finds it quite difficult speaking to people. He’s quite quiet and shy, although in the company of people he knows, he’s not, he’s absolutely hilarious. Great sense of humour, very funny, very quick-witted.”
The family have just enjoyed such a day, celebrating together the graduation of Aiden’s mother, Elaine, who has achieved a diploma in nursing. Those pictures belong in a different scrapbook. Before our eyes, McGeady senior unfolds the early years of a player who could go on to be one of Ireland’s outstanding footballers. There’s the team photo of Govanhill Cubs, with Aiden standing alongside his cousin who was reared in that tough district of Glasgow and in the front row the smiling figure of a young footballer as brilliant as Aiden, but now serving a life sentence for murder. Another is of Aiden in a green strip during a trip to his grandmother’s village in Gweedore in Donegal, where as a 12-year-old boy he had entertained the locals doing keepy uppies with tennis and golf balls. And then there is Aiden in a comically large Arsenal shirt in the company of Liam Brady, during a trip down to the Arsenal training ground when he was 11 or 12.
“This is when Arsenal wanted to sign him,” John says. “Liam Brady used to fly us down every five or six weeks and Aiden used to play for the Arsenal youth team. They treated us very, very well but I made it clear right from the start that Aiden was never going to England at the age of 16. Brady couldn’t believe it when we turned him down. He said, ‘We’ll change your mind’. I said, ‘No you won’t. Aiden’s not going to England.That’s it.’ No matter what financial carrot was dangled in front of him, he wasn’t leaving.
“I wouldn’t let Aiden go down to every Premiership club that wanted to have him down because I witnessed a number of incidents down there that I didn’t find particularly attractive. Quite a few parents were sending their sons down to clubs and picking up little presents and being sort of looked after for the weekend. Being wined and dined. That was never my bag and I never wanted to be involved.”
McGeady might appear hands on, pushy even, another case of a father trying to live his life through the achievements of his famous son. Not so, he insists. As a former professional footballer himself — he made around 35 first-team appearances during an injury-scarred five years at Sheffield United in the 1970s — he knows enough about the pitfalls of the job to make a point of steering his son in the right direction.
“I didn’t want him to be a football player just because I was. I wanted him to explore other avenues, give his best shot at school, which he did. He was a straight As student. There’s an awful lot of dads who will their sons on to be football players without having really played the game themselves. And I knew the pitfalls of the game and the lonely moments you have when you have a bad game and you go back to a stranger’s house and you sit back and ruminate on what you did that day and there is nobody there to support you. Basically, I wanted Aiden to make the best of what he has, but if Aiden turned around and said, ‘I don’t want to play football any more, Dad’, I’d be fine with that.”
While McGeady’s scrapbook is bulging, there is no picture of Aiden with a football as a very young boy. “I wasn’t interested until I was eight or nine,” Aiden explains. “My friend was going to train with a local team and I joined him. As soon as I started kicking a ball I liked it, but it was a late start.”
His father was having kidney treatment in hospital at the time and returned to be told by his wife that Aiden was out playing with the Busby Boys. “I decided I better go down to have a look. I was trying to see through some slats in the fence and all I could see was this blond kid beating people and scoring goals. I thought that Aiden wouldn’t have a hope in that company. Then I realised that the kid was Aiden. From that moment on, I knew that life was about to get more complicated.”
Despite his father’s reservations, as well as his experiences with Arsenal, McGeady also went south for trials at Manchester City, Blackburn and Manchester United, with Celtic always in the background.
“Celtic didn’t have a proper youth development system in place at the time. It was pretty much that you signed for Celtic Boys Club, which had a tenuous link with Celtic Football Club. The boys were playing on clay pitches on a Sunday afternoon, against some local boys, beating them 10 or 12 nil and being given absolute dog’s abuse by parents because they were wearing Celtic jerseys. They didn’t have any sort of development plan in practice, there was no professional coaching. So that was when we decided to have a look at what English clubs had to offer as far as facilities were concerned and how they looked after and nurtured the youngsters. It was a learning experience for myself and for Aiden in particular and all of a sudden Celtic clicked. They started a youth development system which pretty much brought it up to scratch with English clubs.”
Celtic took Aiden on their books when he was 14, training three nights a week and playing at weekends while he continued to attend school. Like several top Premiership clubs, Celtic insisted that their trainees didn’t play schools football and the seeds of McGeady’s involvement with Ireland were then sown. The Scottish Schools FA insisted that players representing their under-age sides play schools football and McGeady fell through the net as a result.
“When I was 15 I wanted to play for Scotland but I couldn’t,” McGeady says. “Then Packie Bonner phoned and asked me to go over training with Ireland and I thought, ‘What’s the harm in that?’ I did quite well and got asked back and got to know the system really well and the boys. When I broke into the first team at Celtic there was all the drama about why I had picked Ireland rather than Scotland, but I already knew the set-up and wasn’t going to change my mind.” This despite the fact that Scotland once named him in a squad for an under-17s match against Northern Ireland and Berti Vogts, then the Scotland manager, invited Aiden and his father into a meeting at his office in Hampden Park.
“I felt we should attend out of courtesy,” John says. “He said, ‘Play for Scotland, stay at home, don’t play for a foreign nation,’ which I found somewhat ironic coming from a German in charge of the Scottish international team. Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guy, but Aiden was always going to play for Ireland.”
Others in Scotland weren’t quite so nice about it. While the Celtic captain Neil Lennon has received far worse abuse, McGeady has been routinely booed at several away grounds since he made his Celtic debut. And sections of the Scottish media refuse to let the issue lie.
“I made my Ireland debut when I was 18 and now I’m 20, but it’s still brought up. Obviously it’s annoying when you get booed every time you touch the ball, but it’s not anything I can’t handle. It’s just part and parcel of football. I suppose everybody’s got their own opinion and a lot of Scottish supporters think I’m wrong playing for Ireland, but it doesn’t really matter what they think, to be honest with you.”
McGeady remembers being interviewed by Stuart Lovell of Setanta Sports after he was made man of the match when Celtic beat Falkirk at the beginning of October.
“He said something like, ‘You’ll be going away with Ireland next week. You must be looking forward to that. Any regrets playing for Ireland now that Scotland are doing so well?’ Any time Ireland start doing badly and Scotland start doing well, it comes up again.
“It’s funny how it works that way. There was this guy who played for Motherwell last year, Brian McLean. He signed from Rangers and he declared for Northern Ireland and played a few games for them. His grandparents were from Northern Ireland, or so they thought. He doesn’t get the same stick that I get. And it turns out his grandparents aren’t from Northern Ireland and he doesn’t play for them any more.”
McLean, of course, has nothing like the talent McGeady has. Adidas recognised McGeady’s special qualities when he was 13, when they signed him up for a boot deal. As well as Brady, Sir Alex Ferguson also made a personal bid to take him down south. Nor did McGeady ever doubt his own abilities. His father has described him as “petulant” in his first professional season at Celtic at the age of 16 and McGeady accepts the criticism.
“I was saying to myself, ‘I am going to play in the first team this season,’ but I wasn’t ready. The coaches were saying to me, ‘You just have to be patient, patient.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want to be patient. When you look at guys like Wayne Rooney, they’re not patient, are they?’ It happened without me realising it really. I was patient and eventually I got in the first team.”
Three weeks after his 18th birthday, he scored on his debut for Celtic against Hearts and was voted man of the match. Nine months later he was clapped off the pitch by Alessandro Nesta of AC Milan after a Champions League game and he has proved his appetite for big games by being consistently excellent in Old Firm matches. It would appear, however, that he has yet to convince Gordon Strachan that he has the consistency to guarantee a regular first-team slot. He made a brilliant start to this season, but had a poor game when Celtic travelled to Old Trafford in the Champions League in September and found himself as an unused substitute when Manchester United came to Celtic Park on Tuesday for the return leg.
“I was very disappointed. All the lads were celebrating in the dressing room afterwards, but I found it difficult. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel part of it because I played in most of the qualifying games. You want to play in the big games and they don’t come much bigger than that. It put us through in the Champions League for the first time in our history. I was happy, but it was just frustrating.”
Injuries have intervened at crucial times in his quest for a regular first team place. Last season he was out for 10 weeks with a ligament injury and could only force his way back in when Celtic won the title in early April against Hearts. While on Ireland duty in October, he went over on his ankle, missing three games, and has only featured intermittently in the Premierleague since.
“It’s just frustrating that I’ve not got back because I think I was playing the best football of my career. I played in every single game until I got injured and then I was out of the team. I’ve not really featured much at all. Five minutes here and there. I know what I’ve got to do to get back in. Keep working hard. The old cliché, really. Get my head down.”
Well, not all the time. McGeady will be closely watching how Shaun Maloney’s contract dispute with Celtic unravels over the next couple of months. Although McGeady can play on the right wing or in the “hole” — his favourite position — he has been pitted against Maloney over the left-midfield slot. Maloney, whose contract is up in the summer, will be free to talk to other clubs come January, while McGeady’s own contract situation is also coming under the spotlight. His has 18 months left to run and Celtic are believed to have made an initial offer to extend it, but McGeady’s progress under Strachan will have a huge bearing on whether the player will be seen at Celtic Park in his prime.
Martin Jol at Tottenham has publicly expressed his interest in the player, while McGeady, perhaps inevitably, has also been linked with re-joining Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa. If Strachan doesn’t consider McGeady to be his type of player, he would be wise to ship him on in the January transfer window, when Celtic could command a fee in the region of £5m. The player himself would clearly like to test his talents in the Premiership. “Eventually that is something that I would like to do,” McGeady says. “Every player has got aspirations to play in other leagues and do other things with their career, but I’m happy at Celtic just now.”
Should push come to shove, he is ready to fly the nest. And this time his father won’t stop him.
Source: S Times Nov 2006
McGeady seals Moscow move
(UKPA) – 45 minutes ago Aiden McGeady has joined Spartak Moscow from Celtic on a four-year contract, the Scottish club have confirmed.The Republic of Ireland international had been linked with a move to England, but will now head to eastern Europe in a deal believed to be close to £10million.McGeady told Celtic's official website: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Celtic Football Club for making my time here so enjoyable and memorable. The Celtic fans are second to none and it is a fantastic club to play for."
Copyright © 2010 The Press Association. All rights reserved.
From BBC (Aug 2010)
Aiden McGeady completes record move to Spartak Moscow
Aiden McGeady has completed his £9.5m switch from Celtic to Spartak Moscow and agreed a four-and-half-year contract with the Russian club.
The 24-year-old Republic of Ireland midfielder is the most expensive ever export from Scottish football.
"It's what he wanted to do and sometimes you can't stand in the way of that," said Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
"It's a huge offer and I think it's the right offer. It's good business for Spartak and good business for us."
McGeady's departure will provide Lennon with funds to bolster his squad and may see Celtic revive their interest in Stoke winger Liam Lawrence.
The money generated from the record transfer could also help facilitate a loan move for Manchester City forward Craig Bellamy.
However, speaking on Thursday, the manager expressed sadness at losing such a talented player.
"I'm sorry to lose him, he is one of the entertainers in the game," said Lennon.
"We'll probably miss out on his peak years but he came to us and said that he felt at the end of the season it would be better for him to move on.
"It's difficult to stand in the way of someone who doesn't want to be here."
One player hoping to benefit from McGeady's exit is Pat McCourt, a winger who has been on the fringes of the first team for two seasons now.
"We've probably lost the best player in the league," said the Northern Ireland international of McGeady.
"I'm sure it's going to be a big hole. But it's up to someone to step up to the plate and fill it.
"It's up to whoever gets a shout and gets the jersey to hold on to it, and I'm hoping it'll be me. This year's the year I really want to kick on and be a regular in the side."
Spartak, managed by former Russian World Cup star Valery Karpin, lie in eighth position in the Russian Premier League, having won only five of their 15 matches.
The right choices on the field, and brave ones off it, have led Aiden McGeady to leave Celtic
10 Aug 2010
It is a big decision but it was taken by a personality who has never shied away from making them.
Aiden McGeady will almost certainly sign for Spartak Moscow this week after travelling yesterday to undergo a medical in Frankfurt. The collapse of his move to Aston Villa after Martin O’Neill was denied immediate access to transfer money was followed by the player swiftly resolving his future. McGeady was highly impressed by the set-up at Spartak and buoyed by coach Valery Karpin’s plans for him after a visit to Moscow.
What seemed an unlikely option just over a week ago, suddenly became the preferred route within a matter of days. The financial rewards of his contract are obviously substantial but McGeady is already a wealthy young man and this is a career move rather than a commercial decision.
McGeady was impressed by the opportunity to play in a bigger league and for a side involved in the group stages of the Champions League. The Irish internationalist is committed to becoming a better player and has ambitions to play at an even higher level. Neil Lennon alluded to this trait on Sunday when he praised McGeady’s continuing efforts to improve physically and technically.
The 24-year-old player has a future beyond Moscow but is determined to make sure it is brighter for his experience in a city now under the cloak of a suffocating fog.
As the deal to Villa was crumbling, McGeady assessed his options. And moved. It is a characteristic that has marked his career. Even as a child, McGeady knew both his worth and his preferred destination.
After his first coaching session as an eight-year-old at Busby, it was apparent he had the talent. Liam Brady, the head of youth development at Arsenal, also knew where he would be playing his football. “He was down here with us but we always accepted it was going to be Celtic for him,” said Brady, who has worked with the winger in the Republic of Ireland set-up.
McGeady’s next decision was the one that has reverberated down the years. He chose to play for the Republic of Ireland as a young teenager after forming a close bond with his grandparents in Gweedore, Donegal. Advised that he would face criticism, even abuse, for picking the Republic, the young McGeady insisted he would cope with it. He has.
In an interview with The Herald, he admitted he had been shocked by the scale of the invective at some grounds but quietly added that he had no regrets.
This strength of mind has caused him problems. McGeady, famously, as a youngster badgered his mentor Tommy Burns about the lack of first-team opportunities and later had confrontations with Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon. The McGeady/Lennon fracas was merely the result of two “winners” locking horns. There was a darker element in his dealings with Strachan, with the player feeling singled out for criticism.
This culminated in a confrontation in December 2008 that left McGeady devastated. He believed his Celtic career was over after a shouting match in the dressing-room. Again, the player made an important decision. He paid a substantial fine, trained quietly but effectively and returned as Celtic’s most influential player.
The decision to leave Celtic was not taken without substantial reflection. He always envisaged a career beyond Celtic Park and in the past had talked about both La Liga and the English Premier League as potential workplaces.
This view testified to his ambition and to his disaffection with the increasingly hostile atmosphere surrounding him. The abuse had become extremely tedious and so had some of the criticisms. The “no end product” nonsense did not evaporate on contact with reality.
Last season, for example, McGeady was joint first in the creation of goals in the SPL with 14 assists. Steven Davis of Rangers who spent most of the season playing wide with the champions, also created 14. McGeady scored seven goals to three by the Northern Irishman. Indeed, as far back as 2007, McGeady was the most prolific creator of chances in the league with 16. He was not a regular taker of set-pieces so statistics show he was the best at creating goals from open play.
These figures also suggest that McGeady’s decision-making on the field was not as poor as his detractors would insist. The £10m paid by Spartak Moscow and O’Neill’s pursuit of the player would also lend weight to the theory that this is a player whose choices on the field were regularly impressive.
His decisions off it have been brave and sure. The advance on Moscow is his boldest yet.
Aiden McGeady explains how leaving Glasgow is the most eloquent answer to his detractors
Aiden McGeady is determined to continue his development in Moscow
Share 0 comments 16 Aug 2010
THE smog cloaking Moscow could not obscure Aiden McGeady’s vision of the future.
Being shuttled around a city wreathed in the smoke from spectacular forest fires, the 24-year-old was quickly coming to a decision. Or, rather, two decisions.
He wanted to be in Moscow and he wanted to be out of Glasgow. The move from Celtic to Spartak Moscow was thus inevitable.
McGeady is aware that his £10m transfer caused surprise, even shock in some quarters. The player had been linked with Barclays Premier League clubs, with Aston Villa leading the chase. Surely, the winger would be joining up with Martin O’Neill? But that move foundered as the squalls at Villa Park gathered to produce the perfect storm that led O’Neill to walk away from the club.
In contrast, McGeady took a voyage of discovery. He flew to Moscow, talked to Spartak officials and seized the chance to accept another challenge.
If I feel it is the right thing to do, then I will do it. It is that simple. And I will live with the consequences Aiden McGeady
He will, of course, be handsomely compensated for his career move. Estimates of his wage range from £40,000 to £60,000 a week. McGeady will not discuss financial terms, but as a wealthy young man his protestations that money was not the deciding factor carry some weight.
“What they were offering, not in terms of money but on the football side, was far greater than any other team who came in for me,” he said of Spartak. “The lure of the Champions League was huge. And this is a better league, too. I also know that people get transfers from the Russian league to Serie A, to the Premiership, to La Liga. Frankly, it was best for everyone if I moved on.”
His first experience of the city sealed the move. As pedestrians coughed and spluttered under the fumes from fires, McGeady sat and quietly assessed what lay before him.
“It was hectic, very cosmopolitan. I liked it immediately. I was trying to get my head round the idea that I would be here permanently. I wanted to see if I could see myself living there, and I could.”
His mind was almost made up before he stepped on the plane to leave Glasgow. McGeady was becoming restless, tired of living in a city where he could rarely feel at ease and increasingly appalled at the level of abuse directed at him.
“I was getting fed up with Glasgow. I wanted to leave. Nothing against Celtic – it’s Glasgow,” he said.
“If you are not a footballer, it is a great city to live in. There are loads of things to do and the people are very friendly but as a footballer it can be a nightmare. When you are out everybody either wants to shake your hand and praise you or they want to have a go at you. If you have a bad result, then even going to the shops is difficult.
“You are hiding your face as you go past a group of people because they will shout at you. Moscow is bigger and maybe I can disappear into it a wee bit.”
McGeady’s decision to play for the Republic of Ireland made him a target for a heightened level of abuse from the stands. “There are a lot of horrible places in Scotland for that type of thing: Tynecastle, Ibrox obviously is always going to be bad with the Celtic-Rangers rivalry, Motherwell, Falkirk. Some fans there hate everything Celtic stand for and everything I stand for as an Irish Catholic playing for Celtic.”
There is a defiance, however, to McGeady. “You enjoy going to those places because it makes it even better when you win,” he said.
He was always aware that to play for the Republic was to place himself squarely in front of ferocious criticism. He was warned when he made the decision as a teenager that the reaction would not be pleasant, but McGeady was surprised at the vehemence of what followed.
“It begins in the warm-ups before games with all sorts of stuff being shouted at you, even from little kids,” he said. “Fair enough, you can have a shout at somebody. Every footballer expects that, but some of the stuff … you would not get away with it in any other walk of life but because you are a footballer you are expected to tolerate it. But if it happened in public, on a street, then nobody would be surprised if it developed into a fight. It is unbelievable what some people shout.”
He has never regretted his decision to choose to play for Ireland. “When I made my debut for Celtic there was a huge fuss made about it. Now I am fed up talking about it.”
McGeady is, though, content about how his life has developed. “I am not afraid to make decisions. If I feel it is the right thing to do, then I will do it. It is that simple. And I will live with the consequences. I have lived with the Ireland thing for years. But I am happy with what I decided. Yes, it turned people against me. But I am not there to be anybody’s mate.”
He deals with criticism boldly and without any attempt at false modesty. “I know what level of footballer I am. I know I can be better but some of the stuff levelled at me was just nonsense.”
McGeady addresses the two major criticisms he has faced as a Celtic player. The first is his goalscoring, though his record of one goal every five games is not too shabby. “I want to score more,” he said. “I remember when I was younger and was in the youth team I used to score a lot of goals. I was a great finisher. I made my debut playing as a second striker but as I have played more and more out wide I have seemed to lost that part of my game, that ability to slot in the chances. I have lost that instinct to score. I want that back.”
The second criticism concerns the “no end product” mantra that has been a constant refrain by McGeady’s critics.
“How many times have I heard that from people saying that my end product is not good enough? Everybody can improve and I will try to do so, but what other winger sets up 14 goals in a season and does not take corners or free-kicks?
“It is funny how people ignore statistics when they do not suit them. Pundits say it all the time and viewers and readers have it driven into them so they start to believe it. To be honest, it does my head in a wee bit and I will be glad to get away from that.”
The overwhelming impression is of a young man ready to move on. “It is a life experience. It is one of those things I will enjoy,” he said of life in Moscow. “If I was not a footballer, I would like to go travelling.”
He added: “I hear people saying it is a bad move. Can anybody explain that to me? What if I stayed at Celtic and they were struggling and I am off form or am injured? I would be regretting the chance not to go. I don’t see in any way that it can be a bad move.”
McGeady, though, knows it will be a wrench leaving a club he loves and a family that is close.
“Of course, there will be will be difficulties at first. I expect that. I can see why a lot of people would say no to Spartak because it is a tough move to make. I accept that but I am determined to get through it. I like the city already and it is a better level of football with the Champions League in the offing.”
He will, of course, be back in Glasgow regularly, perhaps on football business. The Champions League draw could bring him back to the city to face Rangers. He chuckles at the prospect.
McGeady could also return later in his career to the club that nurtured him. “I will definitely miss Celtic Park,” he said. “It is a great place to play football. It was an exhilarating arena especially when you were playing well. The noise level was incredible on Champions League nights or Old Firm matches. It was tremendous to hear the roar if you got past the full-back.
“So every footballer would want to play there. Never say never. I am a Celtic fan so anything is possible. Celtic would be a good place to come back to play the last years of my career if they wanted me and I could still perform at that level.”
That is in the distant future. McGeady remains focused on his challenge in Moscow. “I am just desperate to play,” he said. “I have only been on the park for 55 minutes this season. I want to go and win trophies for my new club. We are capable of doing well in the league and the Champions League is a fantastic prospect.”
Aiden McGeady lifts lid on bust-up with Gordon Strachan
Hugh MacDonald of The Herald
18 Aug 2010
THE education of man and Bhoy can be a painful experience but it can also be inspirational, life-affirming.
AidenMcGeady has been atthe centre of the storm. Hehas weathered it.
The 24-year-old winger has been involved in two notorious altercations: one with Gordon Strachan, his manager, and the other when Artur Boruc, his team-mate, punched him after a training session. He brushes off the latter as a piece of casual violence with no lastingrelevance.
The Strachan episode, though, was devastating, but McGeady believes it provided him with an inner strength.
The events of December 13, 2008, were spectacular. McGeady trudged into the dressing room after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Hearts to face a manager who launched a verbal volleyathim.
The Celtic dressing-room erupted in noise as the player hit back. A row that had been simmering since Strachan had joined the club had reached boiling point.
McGeady feared he had played his last game for the club. “I thought that was it. I thought it was over,” he said. “My first reaction when I got home was that Iwould have to move on. It was the culmination of many incidents,” he said.
However, the incident had a beneficial legacy for the player. “Frankly, it made me a stronger person. It was a difficult experience, but I look back on it with the feeling that I grew through it. There were a lot of other players who might not have come through what I came through under Strachan. A lot of things happened that were extremely unfair.”
McGeady feels he was singled out for criticism by the then Celtic manager. “Imay save all those bad times for a book in the future,” he says, laughing.
He is unwilling to elaborate but is expansive on how he came back to play for Celtic and improve as a player. “It toughened me,” said McGeady. “I felt every game I was going into I had to play at my best because one bad game and I was pretty much out of the team.
“That spurred me on. There was an amazing feeling when you thought you had played well. It was not one of joy, but of relief. The tension just slipped off you. I felt so much better after the match. I felt Ihad guaranteed my place fornext week.”
McGeady paid a fine of two weeks’ wages – thought to be in excess of £40,000 – and served a suspension for the row with Strachan. He decided to take his punishment. He believed his strength then lay in tackling work with a quietprofessionalism.
“When I came back to Lennoxtown after my suspension I was surprised to be back training with the first team. To be fair, Strachan was better with me and came up one day and said simply he was going to start me. And then I played for the rest of the season.”
The season ended with Strachan leaving the club after the title was lost to Rangers. McGeady stayed when everyone predicted he would leave.
However, he was in no hurry to leave the club he supports because he believed he still had work to do. His faith in the reward offered by hard labour was fostered by his inspirational taskmaster, Tommy Burns.
McGeady won three league titles, two Scottish Cups and, two league cups at Celtic. He was outstanding in the 2008/2009 Co-operative Insurance Cup final, winning the man of the match award and scoring from the penalty spot to seal a 2-0 victory in extra-time.
But one memory means the most to him. “It has to be winning the league on the last day in 2008,” he said. “It does not come any better than that. You work all season and it all comes right on the final match at Tannadice.”
It was made especially poignant because Burns, Celtic manager, coach, player and legend, had just died.
“He was a great mentor. Ihave spoken about him loads of times, not just since he passed away,” said McGeady. “The reason for that is how he helped me as a man and as a coach. He would work me every single day, spurring me on to become a better player.”
McGeady laughs as he recalls some of the training sessions he endured as Burns, almost manic in his enthusiasm, would push him on. “Sometimes it got beyond a joke,” said McGeady, the affection unmistakeable in his voice. “He used to say: ‘Let’s stay out and you can hit 15 crosses in’. We would do that and then he would say: ‘Let’s hit another 15 … another 15 … another.’ BeforeI knew it I had hit about 100crosses.”
His verdict on Burns is simple but heartfelt. “He had that love of football that rubbed off on me and the other boys. Everything he said made sense. He advocated continual practice. He said that if you worked and worked and worked to make every part of your game better by just half a per cent then it would all add up to a significant improvement.”
Asked if he thought of Burns as the move to Spartak Moscow became increasingly attractive, McGeady answered. “Yes. I was sure Moscow was the right choice but part of that is because of what Ilearned from Tommy Burns.
“He was a football man and I know he would believe this was the right move for me. This is a great opportunity because of solid football reasons. Everybody who knows anything about the game will see why I have gone. This is a massive club with great ambitions.”
McGeady was encouraged on his trip to Moscow by the enthusiasm shown to him by Dimitri Popov, Spartak sporting director, and Valery Karpin, the manager.
The player is a football obsessive. He retains memories of matches and opponents. Lasting impressions were made when Celtic won a Champions League qualifier in a penalty shoot-out at Parkhead in 2008.
“I remember that game very well,” said McGeady. “We all came back into the dressing-room raving about how good a technical team Spartak were. They had excellent players all over the pitch and moved the ball quickly and accurately.”
He added: “That is the sort of team I want to play in. I am not saying anything against Celtic because we had different attributes, but Ibelieve Spartak will suit me as a player.”
Popov and Karpin encouraged the player immediately. “I asked them straight away what they expected of me,” says McGeady, remembering his visit to Moscow earlier this month. “They just said they wanted what I had been doing for the past couple of years. They said: ‘We have been after you for years’.” McGeady will play on the left or right of a midfield three, bolstered by two holding midfielders.
“I was really impressed about what the management knew about me,” he says. “That really sealed the deal. They knew my strengths and knew just what I wanted fromfootball.”
The football education of Aiden McGeady will therefore continue in Russia. There will be life lessons, too, as he faces up to life in a different culture. However, McGeady, toughened by the past, looks forward without fear to the future.
The Big Interview: Aiden McGeady
May 1, 2005 The Times
The Bhoy wonder has the world at his feet, and the drive to be a true great, writes Douglas Alexander
Yet as a child of five or six, McGeady would hardly have been as awestruck. He admits that, initially, football seemed less appealing than his Sega Mega Drive, the sort of story that makes youth coaches groan and pine for the good old days when kids ... kicked a ball about in the street. “I wasn’t actually interested in football, I wasn’t at all. Then, when I was eight or nine, my friend was going to train with a football team and asked me if I wanted to go. I went along and as soon as I started kicking the ball I liked it, but it was definitely a late start.”
His father John, a former professional with Sheffield United whose career was curtailed by a cracked kneecap, was ambivalent to his son’s ambivalence to football. “I didn’t put any pressure on him,” he says. “I wanted Aiden to have a profession because of what happened to my career. It was really bizarre the way it first happened. My two brothers have both got sons that are football mad, Aiden’s younger than both of them and we used to go down to Cathkin for a kickaround. I said to my brother, Pat, that I’d take Aiden along to see if he was going to be interested in even kicking the thing. I bought him a wee pair of Maradona football boots and he went up to my brother with the ball at his feet. My brother is six foot and Aiden started moving about in front of him. I said, ‘What’s he trying to do, Pat?’ and Pat said, ‘He’s trying to beat me’. I don’t think he even knew what he had to do, it was just instinct.”
Soon the late starter was making up for lost time. It quickly became apparent in games for Our Lady of the Missions primary school on Saturdays and Busby boys club on Sundays that a latent talent had been tapped. No ball was safe. Having mastered a football, McGeady was soon keeping up a tennis ball 500 times and a golf ball 200 times, after watching a video of his hero, Diego Maradona, doing so. At his father’s insistence, each juggling exercise involved both feet.
“Maybe because I had played the game myself, I realised that Aiden had a gift and that the only way it was going to come to fruition was through proper guidance. I sat down one night with Elaine, my wife, and said, ‘Apart from anything else, I have got a major responsibility here’. There was never any danger of me living my life through him because he had far more natural ability than me.”
John decided to raise the bar: it was time to move Aiden from the nice grass pitches that Busby played on where nice boys applauded each other off at the end. “My friend ran a team in the Gorbals and I thought it would be a good idea for Aiden to start playing with guys who could toughen him up, guys who were a bit streetwise.” Mick Gillespie, who ran Govanhill cubs, had been a schoolboy friend of John’s and played for Queen’s Park. He took responsibility for the next stage of Aiden’s development. “He used to make deals with Aiden before the game. He would say for the first five minutes play two-touch football, the second five minutes do what you like then two-touch again for five minutes. It made him more of a team player, more aware.”
By the time Aiden started at St Ninian’s secondary school, others wanted to make deals with him. Arsenal, Celtic, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all made overtures. At United, McGeady stood out from the crop of boys brought from England, Scotland and Ireland and Wales to one trial. At Arsenal, John recalls that Aiden, who wore glasses then, looked like “Harry Potter” when handed a top with sleeves that swallowed his tiny arms. However, he didn’t look out of place in the ensuing match against a side from Auxerre in front of Liam Brady and Don Howe. “At the end, Brady came over and said, ‘He’s got all the ability in the world but he wants it too, he’s got that mental toughness’,” adds John. “‘He got kicked a few times but he got the guys back’.”
Aiden was as impressed by Arsenal as they were by him. Of all the English clubs, they were the one who seriously threatened Celtic for his signature as a schoolboy. “I didn’t want to leave home because my dad told me he did it when he was 16 and was homesick, and I didn’t want to go down that path.” There was another factor. George Adams, now head of Rangers’ youth development, but then in charge of Celtic’s schoolboy scouting.
“He was a genuine guy who said what he thought. He would come and watch me play and then phone afterwards to say he was still interested.”
COURTED by clubs but also by countries. There was an interested spectator when McGeady played in that trial at Manchester United. Darren Fletcher had been attracted by the hype that had accompanied McGeady south. “He completely ran the show and stood out a mile against all the best young players in the country,” says Fletcher. “Andy Perry, the chief scout at United, told me he was special and he wasn’t wrong. Afterwards, I met him and told him all about United and what it was like to live down there. I was about 15 or 16 at the time and ready to sign, but he was 12 or 13 and going round a few clubs.” Fletcher and McGeady shared another dilemma. Whether to play for Scotland, the country of their birth, or Ireland, the country of their heritage. Fletcher had to contend with Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane as aggressive ambassadors for each cause but was always going to choose Scotland despite the fact that his mother, Bridget, is from County Mayo. McGeady slipped through Scotland’s system because Celtic, at that time, forbade their signings from playing schools football of any form for Scotland but had no problem with Ireland, whose sides of the same age were run by the FAI. “I come from an Irish background, I go over there for holidays [to Gweedore in Donegal where his grandmother, Kitty, lives] but it’s not really anything to do with that, that’s just the way I was brought up,” explains McGeady. “When I was 15 I wanted to play for my country and because I didn’t play for my school, Scotland schoolboys wouldn’t let me. I thought, ‘Fair enough, I’ll just go back to playing normal football with Celtic’, but then Packie Bonner [the former Celtic and Ireland goalkeeper] phoned and asked me to go over for training and I thought, ‘What’s the harm in that?’.
“It was a sort of get-together of the teams. I did quite well and got asked back and was involved with all the teams — 15s, 16s, 17s. After that, I knew the set-up really well and all the boys. When I broke into the first team at Celtic there was all the drama about why I had picked Ireland rather than Scotland, but the thing was I already knew the set-up and wasn’t going to change my mind.”
Despite this assertion, officials at the Scottish Schools FA insist they were innocent and that other players from club sides, who didn’t play for their schools, were selected for the international team at that time. Berti Vogts later made a personal plea for a switch of allegiance in his office at Hampden but it was too late and Brian Kerr has since fast-tracked McGeady into Ireland’s senior squad, giving him his full debut against Jamaica last June. Ireland have a deeper pool of talent than Scotland right now and are therefore more likely to be at the big tournaments that McGeady craves, but the downside is that holding down a place in their squad will be more difficult than if he had opted for the country of his birth. “I have had a few games here and there but I would really like to break through and become a regular. First, you have to do that at your own club. The thing everybody wants to do is play at a World Cup against the best players in the world. I have still got loads of time left to do that but eventually I would like to. 1994 was the first one I watched and I remember Maradona running to the cameras to celebrate his goal against Greece before he was banned.”
One of his uncles went to see an 18-year-old Maradona destroy Scotland at Hampden in 1979. Alan Hansen, who played against him that day, jokes that he is still untying the knots from his legs, but a reminder of this match brings a smile from McGeady for a different reason as he sits talking at a table in the Room restaurant in the salubrious surrounds of One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow’s west end. “My uncle was at the game with his friend and said, ‘What do you think of that boy Maradona?’ and he said, ‘Nah, I don’t rate him’.” McGeady lacks the stocky explosiveness of his hero or Wayne Rooney but he is a box of tricks, perhaps the closest thing Celtic have unearthed to Jimmy Johnstone since ‘Jinky’ tormented defenders in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He has been used largely wide on the left this season by O’Neill, a position which allows him to cut inside onto his slightly stronger right foot, as he recently did to score a memorable goal against Dunfermline, his fifth of the season. JOHN McGEADY’s career at Sheffield United was starting as Johnstone’s was ending at the same club and both were right-wingers, although different in style. McGeady senior’s main asset was speed. “I made my debut when I was 17 in the equivalent of what is the Premiership now, the old First Division, on Boxing Day 1975 and I played 11 first-team games on the trot. Then we played Manchester City just after they had won the League Cup. There were a couple of minutes to go and I was going down the right wing at pace. I went past Willie Donachie and all my weight was on my left foot and he came in and his studs caught my left knee cap. It was an accident, he didn’t mean it, but I heard a crack and when I went for an X-ray they said my kneecap was broken. I wasn’t looked after properly, I think the specialist made a few bad decisions because I broke it another three times and eventually had it removed.” He made it back to the first team before heading to the United States, where the money was better than the football, then came back to briefly play in Scotland, but his injuries had robbed him of his pace and he worked for his father in the building trade, which he hated, before training to become an English teacher, which he loves.
So what does he think when he watches his son teasing experienced defenders? Does he not worry that one day Aiden will also fail to get up from one of their challenges? “Not at all. I didn’t have great balance, but Aiden seems to. When he does get kicked, he absorbs the impact and gets up and gets on with it. Jimmy Johnstone had that, so did Johan Cruyff. Cruyff never had one knee injury in his whole career, just the odd pulled muscle. Nobody got kicked more than Jimmy but he never had a serious injury. I don’t worry because if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
It already has to another promising young Celtic player. John Kennedy has required a series of operations to rebuild his left knee after a shocking challenge by Ioan Ganea of Romania when he made his Scotland debut last March, and the defender will not return until 2006. A reminder of how precarious football is as a profession to McGeady, if it was necessary after his father’s misfortune.
“It was terrible for John, because he was playing so well at the time and had broken into the first team, but he’s a resilient guy. I think he’ll come back and do well.”
The number of youngsters pressing for first-team places is perhaps reminiscent of the early 1970s when a group, collectively dubbed the Quality Street Kids and including the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari, George Connelly and Vic Davidson, were pressing Jock Stein for first-team places at the expense of the Lisbon Lions. It remains to be seen whether McGeady, Kennedy, Ross Wallace, Shaun Maloney and David Marshall, who was taught English by John McGeady for two years, can make such an impression on O’Neill’s established team. “Only time will tell really,” replies McGeady, wisely, to this possibility. “We have only played a handful of games between us. It would different if we were all in the team together and playing well.”
He has learned to play patience. His father described him to me as “petulant” in his first year as a professional at Celtic when we spoke a year ago, and McGeady now accepts that he expected too much, too young. “I was 16 and saying to myself, ‘I am going to play in the first team this season’, but I wasn’t ready. If you think I am small now, I was a lot smaller then. I think I was just kidding myself on. Ross [Wallace] played in a testimonial when he was quite young and I just wanted to do the same. Tommy Burns [Celtic’s director of youth development] always says it’s not about when you make your debut, it’s if you stay there. I’ve sort of needed a clip round the ear every so often and I’ve had it off them. The coaching set-up is good at Celtic and I think there’s going to be a few more coming through.”
When McGeady was initially called into first-team training, he hardly distinguished himself. “I had an absolute beast because I was just so nervous. The ball was coming to me and going under my foot and everyone was shouting at me.”
He is aware that a player with his trickery — his favourite is an improvised version of the Cruyff turn — can easily earn a reputation as a show-off. “If I am keeping the ball up that’s just to improve my control, I would never do anything like that in a game. Sometimes Ronaldinho is described as doing too many tricks but as long as there is an end product then nobody can really complain. Earlier in the season, I would get to the byline and my crosses wouldn’t be as good as I thought they should. Lately, since I have come back into the team, I have been setting up more goals from those positions which is pleasing because that’s really your job when you are playing left or right midfield.”
It is easy to forget that it is only a year to the week since he made his debut for Celtic, in which he scored against Hearts at Tynecastle. Already, he has seen off Juninho, who failed to consistently provide the extra flair O’Neill was looking for and has gone back to Brazil. Then, just when it seemed McGeady might have tied down one of those precious first-team places, Craig Bellamy arrived on loan from Newcastle to provide another alternative of speed and movement to Celtic’s manager. He has had to be content with a place on the bench for the last two Old Firm games, despite good form in the run-up to them, but appreciated O’Neill taking the time to explain his omission to accommodate Bellamy.
His most striking performance so far was against AC Milan in the Champions League, at Parkhead in December, when he terrorised Fabricio Coloccini, the Italians’ makeshift right-back, and left a lasting impression on Paolo Maldini. “He has talent, a good personality and calmness,” said the great man afterwards. “Celtic lack a player who can beat people, who can do something different to alter the course of a game and perhaps he can become it.” McGeady glows when this compliment is relayed to him, the mask he keeps on his emotions slipping for perhaps the only time in an hour or so of chat. “The AC Milan game was the first Champions League game I played in where I realised I could maybe cut it at this level. It’s unbelievable to get a compliment from a player like Maldini. He’s been playing at the highest level for near enough 20 years.”
Indeed, he is old enough to be McGeady’s dad. That may have been the night when the boy wonder became a man, although he should still be permitted a few trips back to his childhood with a ball when the mood takes him.