PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
so farewell then...
And so ends a connection between Celtic and Aiden McGeady that has lasted eight years as he heads off to the bright lights of, er, Moscow, to further his career in the game. At the age of 24 he has decided that he has gone as far as he can at Celtic Park, and when a cheque for nearly ten million quid was dangled in front of Peter Lawwell the Chief Executive obviously agreed.
Our mercurial number 46 signed for Celtic when he turned 16. Liam Brady had made a determined effort to take him to Arsenal, while Alex Ferguson tried to attract him to Manchester United. Instead, being a Celtic supporter, he chose the club in whose traditions his whole family was steeped.
Bounced during his tender years into opting to play for the Republic of Ireland by the Scottish Schools Football Association’s ridiculous decision to snub him, and also by the persistent encouragement of Packy Bonner among others, it became clear very quickly that his decision, which would have gone unremarked in any other country in the world, would attract the wrath of the sizeable minority in Scottish society who regard affiliation to Ireland as an affliction deserving of suspicion, if not downright hatred.
Aiden’s decision showed courage, stubbornness and a touch of impetuosity; attributes which he continued to display throughout his Celtic career.
The twinkle-footed ball juggler did not linger long in Celtic’s Youth or Reserve sides before being thrust into the first team at the age of 17 - a meteoric elevation which he marked, fittingly, with a stunning debut goal against Hearts at Tynecastle at the fag-end of the 1993-94 season, a volley from the edge of the box which flew low past Craig Gordon.
For a while, there seemed to be no stopping him. Against AC Milan in the Champions League, he dazzled Coloccini and Nesta with his footwork, the latter the victim of a McGeady sleight of foot that left him looking for the pay-in gate.
But McGeady soon learned that most professional opponents were determined to nullify his strengths rather than admire them. And they were quick to take advantage of his failings.
Aiden’s form suffered as every loss of possession was met by a chorus of harrumphs from large sections of the Celtic Park ‘faithful’.
His nadir came in Bratislava, where his distressing performance in the shattering 5:0 defeat was topped by a horrendous miss in front of an open goal.
Lesser lads may have crumbled after such a setback. But Aiden, remember, has courage and stubbornness. Plus an impetuosity he displayed to good effect against Rangers in the back-to-back wins at Celtic Park in the autumn which transformed Celtic’s season.
Unfortunately, he later followed up a match-winning performance against Motherwell at Fir Park by sustaining a serious injury. His season, to all intents and purposes, was over.
For an impatient lad like himself, the lengthy recuperation must have been tortuous. But it is clear that he used his time well. He returned to the first team clearly stronger and faster.
I said at the time that Aiden had to work harder on his weaknesses: his tendency to show too much of the ball to opponents; an unwillingness to put in a proper defensive shift when required; plus the glaring requirement to work like a beast in the gym and training ground to improve his strength and speed.
He made a great start to the following season as well, setting up goals for Stilian Petrov against Hearts and St. Mirren with sublime passes.
He became an essential component of Gordon Strachan’s side and far from the kind of luxury player some would portray him as. His ball retention improved. His end product improved. His physique and pace improved. His defending improved.
In the absence of Shaun Maloney, McGeady took the opportunity to make himself an automatic first pick for Celtic pretty much for the remainder of his Celtic career.
During season 2007-8 he was probably his best, playing with an invention and confidence that made him a nightmare for opponents who would regularly detail two or three men to nullify his attacking threat. Some of his trickery to set up goals for the likes of McDonald at Pittodrie will be talked about for years to come.
That season he became only the second player ever to win both the SPFA and Young Player Of The Year in the same season, the other being Shaun Maloney.
While it might have meant a lot to him, the scenes at Tannadice on Tommy Burns Thursday said a lot more about what Celtic meant to Aiden McGeady.
The following season is best forgotten by all concerned. Strachan’s Celtic lost their way and the pressure involved in staying at the top saw personalty clashes emerge in the dressing-room, culminating in an unseemly post-match spat between the player and his manager. A two week suspension followed, although it looked for a while as if his departure form Celtic was about to come rather sooner than it eventually did.
The 2009–10 started well, with two goals against Aberdeen on the opening day of the season at Pittodrie. However it wasn’t long before the malaise set in under Mowbray during last season’s debacle, although from a personal perspective McGeady, while not having the best of seasons, could point to another healthy tally of assists beside his name.
Despite that, it was clear during the team’s lap of whatever you call that when you trudge around the pitch at the end of a season having won nothing, that an emotionally overcome McGeady had made his decision to move on.
It’s a decision that will doubtless please the foaming bigots from Ibrox and from such family clubs as Motherwell, St. Mirren and Hearts although they will miss the opportunities McGeady gave them to vent their racist ant-Irish spleens at him, a hatred that was rarely condemned by the Laptop Loyal. Indeed, it was more likely to be condoned.
Ultimately he probably didn’t achieve all of the lofty ambitions he set for himself as a Celtic player, and he could be as frustrating as much as he could be entertaining and effective. But he was a player that could produce a moment of sublime skill that would have a crowd off their seats - and how often do they come along?
The last word goes to Estadio: “I will always be a season ticket holder, but Aiden enabled me to hand over my cash with a smile, and like Charlie Tully, George Connolly and Jinky he is even more special because he’s one of us. While others can and will disagree with me as to Aiden’s capability and skill, I find it astonishing that some feel it necessary to virtually deny his presence never-mind his contribution by simply drawing a line under his career and urging everyone to ‘forget him’.
Somehow the concept of the common thread that enables Celtic supporters to share ‘the History’ and sees flourishing outposts in a green and white mosaic across the planet, seems to have escaped their notice. We have a CELTIC supporter going to ply their trade in a new culture where probably the only knowledge of Celtic is as a football club. Aiden, his family and friends will meet many new people from many places (have a look at the Spartak Squad) and I am sure that in off duty moments they will all have the chance to regale their new pals with tales of the initially tragic and poverty stricken seeds from which Celtic – the whole Celtic movement – grew and ultimately flourished. I am sure that like many people I have the pleasure to know across the globe, some of those will become enchanted by the history and pass that affection on through their own families and friends.
If for no other reason, we should not only fervently and honestly wish Aiden all the best, we should keep a wee eye on how he gets on. We are more than a football club after all. Aren’t we?”
We wish him the very best of luck at his new club.