Aiden McGeady: 'Staying at Spartak would have meant training with the U17s'
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Aiden McGeady: 'Staying at Spartak would have meant training with the U17s'

THERE is nothing unusual about Moscow’s citizens enduring harsh winters. It goes with the territory.

By last December, though, Aiden McGeady had had enough. After three years in Russia, he had got used to the weather but a different kind of cold was beginning to bite, caused by his falling out with Spartak Moscow’s manager, Valeri Karpin, who banished the winger to train with the club’s youth team.

“Actually that wasn’t the worse part,” says McGeady, “because the training there was quite good, refreshing in actual fact compared to the antics going on with the first-team.

"My attitude was ‘right I have to get on with things here’, because there were only a couple of weeks to go before the winter break.

“But had I went back to Spartak then that would have been difficult because they told me I would be back with the Under 17s [until his contract expired this June].”

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Instead, he swapped Moscow for Merseyside, Karpin for Roberto Martinez, the cold climate for a warm environment.

“The gaffer [Martinez] here is different class,” says McGeady. “He’s an extremely positive person who would rarely come in after a game and say something negative about the team or a person.

“It’s great to be working with someone like him — because I have seen the way Seamus [Coleman] and James [McCarthy] have developed under him.

"He is tactically one of the best I have ever worked with. He knows what he is talking about and it would not surprise me if he landed a job with one of the biggest clubs in the world.”

In the meantime he has work to do to resurrect Everton’s season, which, after its bright start, is in danger of ending anti-climatically. That’s where McGeady comes in, a go-to guy who, Martinez believes, has the class to take Everton onto another level.

“Aiden beats men. Very few can do that. But Aiden has the skill to get by any single defender. That’s a major plus — for him and for us,” said Martinez.

The recurring problem, however, is what happens next.

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While McGeady has mastered the art of tricking defenders with his remarkably speedy footwork, his subsequent decision-making and crossing have rarely impressed, even though his return of 13 goals and 29 assists from 93 games with Spartak suggest he is finally on the right path.

“The manager has mentioned about my work in the final third,” says McGeady, “and I’m confident that between us we’ll get there.

"He has confidence in me and that showed in a recent game against Aston Villa. They were playing 3-5-2 and he kept telling me not to track back, so that their left wing-back would be occupied by me.

“I was standing on the touchline thinking ‘this is a bit strange here, I feel kind of lazy’.

"Fans were looking at me as I was letting guys run past me and I looked at the manager and kind of asked, ‘Is this okay?’ and he just said, ‘I don’t care what is being said, don’t track back, we want you on the counter’. It was different to what I was used to — but it shows his intelligence.”

Aiden McGeady, Ireland, Everton Aiden McGeady in action for Ireland
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If Ireland’s fans have been left to question the intelligence of some of McGeady’s decisions in internationals then few can quibble with the wisdom of the choices he has made off the field with regard to his club career.

It is four years since he made the surprise switch to Moscow from Celtic, where he had won eight trophies, including four league titles, had won the SPFA Player of the Year title in 2008. At 23, he needed a fresh start and Moscow offered that.

“I’ve no regrets,” he says, “because the football is good in Russia, a different style to Scotland, a step-up. I played Champions League there and the whole time in Moscow helped me progress and while it was a long route to take to get to the Premier League, I’m glad I went there.”

Another plus — after six years in the Glaswegian goldfish bowl — was the return of privacy to his life. “I could walk down the street and be known by no one,” he said. “That was enjoyable.”

The same luxury isn’t afforded in Liverpool and certainly won’t be apparent this November when Ireland travel to McGeady’s home town for a Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland. The name-calling, and sectarianism, will most probably be there to greet him.

“I’m actually looking forward to the game,” he said. “No doubt I will get abuse. That’s definite. I’ve had that since I was 16, 17 and I’ve learnt how to deal with it. When I was younger, I reacted.

"If someone had a go at me, I would have a go back but as you get older, you learn to ignore it. Playing against Scotland will be strange but if we score, I will celebrate. Definitely.”

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Scoring for Ireland, however, has not been a regular pastime. Just three goals have been struck in his 64-game international career and after last week’s performance against Serbia he wasn’t shy about accepting his shortcomings.

“I was a spectator,” he said. “It was difficult getting into spaces because we didn’t have loads of the ball, especially in the second half.

“To be honest I thought they were the better team and kept the ball well, kind of how I would like us to play. It wasn’t that we played badly but we could have killed the game off and we still have a bit of work to do.”

Most notably, they need to learn how to close the deal. Yet again a one-goal lead was thrown away, just as it was against Austria and Sweden in the last World Cup campaign, Slovakia in the Euro 2012 qualifiers and against France, Bulgaria (twice) and Italy on the road to South Africa in 2010.

“We have not had a lot of time together under the new management but hopefully the games this summer will allow him to get his points across.

"It was only his third game, remember — and had we won, it wouldn’t have been a massive deal, given that it was a friendly. We want to firing on all cylinders when the qualifiers begin. The mood is still pretty positive. We were a bit sloppy last week and that cost us.”

They are words we have heard Irish players say before. McGeady — and others — insist they will learn. From September on, we will find out whether we are witnesses to a new dawn or a false one.

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