by Leighton Cullen
The one to watch for Ireland in this summer’s Euros has to be Aiden McGeady. The Glasgow born Irish international has been a revelation since his big-money move to Spartak Moscow in 2010 and is widely viewed as the second best winger in the Russian Premier League. According to persistent reports however the 26 year old is keen to return to Britain and there will be no shortage of interest particularly if he enjoys a decent tournament and torments the likes of Arbeloa and Maggio.
Aiden started out with his boyhood team Celtic where he was a huge hit and won everything there was to win in the SPL. During his time at Parkhead he played with a real freedom switching wings and giving fullbacks regular nightmares possessing as he does a bag of tricks and slick feet. He often wasn’t content with merely beating a player once with some skill, he would then have to try and do it again. When it came off it was great but there was times when this understandably led to exasperation.
The highlight of Aiden’s spell at Celtic was him winning both the Young and Senior Player of the Year awards in 2008 with some brilliant displays that season. It proved to be the making of him and led to a number of scouts keeping a close eye. But whilst the rumour mill whirred into life – and the player revelled in the best form of his life scoring and creating at will – surprisingly no club took the initiative and committed to a firm bid. That was until Spartak Moscow swooped for a fee of £9.5m, a record for a player leaving the SPL.
It was an unusual and unexpected destination but there is no question he has grown both as a player and person, indeed Moscow seems to be a good fit for Aiden and it has made a man out of him.
Previously his international form during his Celtic days could be viewed as hit and miss; he just seemed too light on the ball and the better defenders simply muscled him away. Back then he was generally considered a bit part player, capable of magic but unable to influence matters and often lacking a final ball.
Now though, after successfully overcoming the challenge of acclimatising to a foreign culture and being surrounded by better quality players, Aiden has grown in stature at Moscow, becoming a key figure there with 22 assists in 57 games. Crucially he has transferred these new-found qualities to international level where he looks far more focussed, with the left flank role now nailed down for him. His deliveries have improved ten-fold and his decision-making is infinitely better whilst he still retains the skill to beat a man. He has become the player Trap looks to for creativity.
The only negative is Aiden’s shortage of goals. In the Euro qualifiers a disappointing tally of two illustrates this and he needs to score more and be greedier when opportunities open up to him.
This Euros will be a golden chance to showcase his talents on the big stage and although everybody in Ireland is already aware and appreciative of his ability Aiden needs to demonstrate he can become our big-game player. The last time Ireland was represented in the tournament Ray Houghton scored that famous goal against the English and I hope similar t-shirts are mass-produced in a week’s time when Aiden scores the winner against the Italians to take Ireland into the second round.