Derby days have given Shay a new lease of life – Michael Walker talks to Shay Given:
Former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper is relishing his coaching role with Lampard’s Derby County
He strides in smiling wearing his new work gear: an all-black kit, a little white ram above his heart, ‘SG’ initials alongside. He is sweaty after a swift gym session following training. He swigs water, wolfs down some chopped fruit and starts chatting. And chatting. Shay Given looks and sounds one happy man.
This is his new world: Derby County’s training ground on the foggy hills on the edge of town. It is his tenth club, if you count loans, more than 25 years since the 16-year-old Given stepped onto the Stranraer ferry with his father Séamus bound for Celtic. Then a boy, hoping; now a man, coaching.
Celtic and Derby County both represent first-time experiences for Given. He was thrilled and nervous then, he is thrilled and “honoured” now.
What Given did not know was that in September 2016, when he walked off the pitch at Selhurst Park after Stoke City’s 4-1 defeat by Crystal Palace, he had played his last game. There was no choreographed farewell, just a place back in the squad, a seat on the Stoke bench as Lee Grant took his spot.
Then release, then retirement. 800 games. Over.
“I wasn’t thinking it was my last game, no,” Given says of Selhurst Park. “It didn’t really dawn on me – even when I left Stoke I thought I might go somewhere else. I had a few options at the beginning of last season but it was at clubs struggling in the Championship or in League One. I didn’t want to go somewhere where they’d lost by five last week but it might be three next week cos I’ve gone in. I didn’t sort-of want to go out that way, you know?
“I mean, I know I lost at Palace, but it was in the Premier League. I suppose I didn’t want to go places and have people talking negatively about me: ‘How’d he play in the Premier League?’ That didn’t excite me.”
So he hit the TV studios and radio stations, quietly did some coaching at Macclesfield Town. Given relished it. He had got himself qualified with A and B coaching licences. He also liked the freedom of not playing, time with family and a long holiday in Spain last June. “And then I just got a text from Frank out of the blue.”
Frank is Frank Lampard – or Frank Lampard Jnr to those of a certain age and West Ham sensibility.
“It was June-ish,” Given says. “I got the text: ‘It’s Frank here, give me a call.’ I thought he’d the wrong number. No, I knew he’d got the Derby job so it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what he wanted to talk about.”
Given knew Lampard as an opponent, as a competitor, but not as a colleague or socially. A few conversations later, that changed. “I’m pretty honoured,” he says.
“I feel privileged to be here, to be part of it. Think of all the keepers and coaches Frank’s worked with. It was a bit out of the blue, but he was with Shearer at the World Cup and Al put in a good word for me. Others did, those he knows, Harry Redknapp I think.
“There’d have been a queue at the door to get this job. We spoke a few times. I was excited. He’s a world-renowned football person and he wants to be the best as a manager. To be part of that from day one felt exciting. Someone said I should maybe wait a year, do some more media. But Frank wanted new people in, fresh ideas, and it all sounded exciting. And of course Derby is a great club to get a chance at. It’s all set up for the Premier League – the stadium, the training ground, the facilities. It’s a great job – for all of us.”
The enthusiasm Given admired in his first real goalkeeping coach, Terry Gennoe at Blackburn Rovers back in the mid-1990s, is obvious in himself. He thinks about Gennoe every day, writing ‘TG’ at the top of his sheet planning the day’s session. TG for Training Ground now, plus a pitch number on Derby’s green acres.
He is up at 6.30am for the 90-minute drive, then out with the number one, Scott Carson, and two, sometimes three other goalkeepers. Given has thrown himself into it, though not literally.
“I’m not doing any diving, no,” he says. “I did in the first few days because I was going to play in the game up at Celtic. I haven’t done anything since. I say to the lads: ‘Let’s try to cover everything that we’ll come across on a Saturday. When Saturday comes, you should be ready.’
“Obviously, the Championship is Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday, so it’s tough time-wise. Scott Carson is the first choice so he can be on a recovery day, but I’ll be out there with the other lads. It’s a good group.
“I didn’t know Scott personally, but I’d played against him and knew what he’d done as a goalkeeper. He’s fantastic to work with.”
Carson is 33 with Liverpool, West Brom and England experience. Can Given teach him?
“I don’t think you ever stop learning. I’m always open to new ideas, try to improve. When you think you’ve stopped learning, you’re going backwards. To be fair to Scottie, his attitude is so professional, very keen, even on recovery days he wants to be out there. I’ve to hold him back a bit.”
The goalkeeper’s game has changed dramatically since Given began. At Lifford Celtic in Donegal, he could pick the ball up. Then came the back-pass law and the six-second rule. Today, thanks to Pep Guardiola, the goalkeeper is no longer regarded as the 1 in 10+1.
“I know everyone goes back to Man City and Ederson,” Given says, “but Pep Guardiola did come in and say he wanted Ederson as his keeper because this is how he wants City to play. A lot of his team stuff is based around the goalkeeper.
“When City have the ball, Ederson becomes an 11th outfield player. Sometimes Guardiola wants him to be closed down because that creates space for somebody else. That’s all part of the coaching, the manager working with the goalkeeper. It’s key.”
This is the next phase in goalkeeping coaching: integration. At Uefa Packie Bonner has introduced a new qualification and he has been to Derby to see his fellow Donegal man. Given returns to his talks with Lampard.
“Frank said: ‘I want you to be part of the whole lot, not to be just in a corner with the keepers.’ I’m doing my goalkeeping A-Licence at the minute – it’s about being part of the (coaching) group. Packie Bonner oversees it for Uefa. I’m doing it in Belfast. He was over here a month ago.
“Packie spoke to me and the gaffer about being integrated, being part of ideas. We’re in meetings every day as a group and it’s good for me that Frank is open to that. I’ve just started as a coach, I’m learning. I said to Frank that I wanted to learn everything, not just the goalkeeping side.”
An example of Given’s integration at Derby is that he is involved in corner-kick planning – defensive and attacking. This caused some pain last Saturday when Derby, 2-0 up against Swansea, conceded from an 87th minute corner.
As a coach, feeling responsibility, is 2-1 much less good than 2-0?
“Yeah, definitely. If we’d won 2-0, I’d have been a lot happier. You say the three points is great, but at the same time, there’s a tinge of . . . we need to start keeping more clean sheets. We can’t score two goals every week.
“On average, I think it’s 20 clean sheets for promotion – I’m not saying it guarantees you promotion. But we’ve kept three and it’s nearly halfway. December 26th is halfway. So we need to improve. These little things are red flags.
Given says that he was “never been wrapped up about clean sheets” as a player. Yet in part that was how he made his name.
His full debut as a professional came on loan from Blackburn at Swindon Town. They travelled to Hull City in August 1995 and won 1-0. It was the first of four clean sheets in five.
His next loan was at Sunderland where his clean sheet record was 12 in 17.
His profile raised, Mick McCarthy called up the 19-year-old Given for his first cap in his debut as Republic of Ireland manager.
“It’s gone full circle, hasn’t it?” Given says of McCarthy’s re-appointment. “He got chased out if you remember. I just hope he does well. I texted him on the day and wished him well, nothing major.
“The bottom line is qualification. The last year has been frustrating and Roy (Keane) and Martin (O’Neill) will know that – the results have not been good enough.
“The draw has been good, could have been a lot worse, and I think there’s a nucleus of a good team there, I really do. If you can get them together, playing in the right way, I think we’ve got a chance.”
He is unsure about the succession plan involving McCarthy and Stephen Kenny, but he is open and again mentions integration.
“There should be cohesion, there should be a way of playing that applies to the youth set-ups and the senior team, an FAI way. It seems each manager is different. We need some integration. If Mick and Stephen Kenny are planning on working together I think that could be refreshing.
“Mick needs younger players. It’s good about Michael Obafemi at Southampton. I’m glad he wants to play for Ireland.”
Given also thinks his former Aston Villa team-mate, Jack Grealish, would be worth another phone call: “He has said he wants to play for England but he hasn’t done it yet. If I was Mick, I’d be on the phone to Jack.
“Look at the players England have in his position – Dele Alli, James Maddison at Leicester. Jack’s a real talent. He might be thinking about it – he could have had 25 caps for Ireland by now.” Given is thinking like a manager, but also like a 42-year-old Irishman worried about the state of soccer and sporting competition. “A few weeks ago, I was back for the weekend on the international break. Driving from Belfast up to Donegal, you see these GAA pitches and clubhouses done up, everything’s so professional. The money goes into the grassroots.
“Then there’s soccer pitches that are mudheaps. Football needs investment, and more than 10 grand a club.
“But it’s the rugby that’s flying. Ireland’s just beat the All Blacks. Brilliant for the country. If you’re a young kid in Ireland, these are your heroes.
“They could win a World Cup and with all due respect, I don’t think we’ll win one at football – there’s an argument for a united Ireland team because of the rugby success. I wouldn’t object to that. It’s a minefield, though.”
Having earned his coaching badges in Belfast with the IFA, Given has cross-border awareness. His praise is for the northern association.
“The black and white of it is that me and Kevin Kilbane wanted to do these A and B Licences and we spoke to someone at the FAI. And, literally, they never called back.
“We spoke to Nigel Best (IFA) up in Belfast and they could not have done enough for us. At the time me and Kev were the two most capped Irish players in history and the FAI didn’t even phone back, where Nigel was totally accommodating, no anti-Republic of Ireland thing. The IFA said: ‘We’d love to have you, please do come.’”
The desire, and the qualifications, take Given back to where he sits today, at Derby County. Here he ponders training sessions, corner kicks, coaching - and promotion.
“The thing is to get promotion, I don’t care how. There’s no top-10 target, no top-half, we need to get promotion, automatic or through the playoffs. It’s not a total failure if we don’t, and we have had to change a lot – personnel, style of play. I think Fulham were 11th going into Christmas last season and came second. We are thereabouts.”
Derby are seventh in a Championship top-seven separated by six points. They are at Wigan Athletic today, the next home game being against deadly rivals Nottingham Forest.
Given gets up and makes for the coaches’ room. He is beaming.
“It’s just nice to be involved. You know what I’m like, I love the craic, the buzz around the lads. When you’re a coach, it’s tough if you lose, it is quite draining. But when you win, it’s mad, it’s magnified. You feel it for the whole group.”
He (McCarthy) got chased out if you remember. I just hope he does well. I think there’s a nucleus of a good team there, I really do. If you can get them together, playing in the right way, I think we’ve got a chance” They could win a World Cup and with all due respect, I don’t think we’ll win one at football – there’s an argument for a united Ireland team because of the rugby success. I wouldn’t object to that. It’s a minefield, though”
Derby County head goalkeeping coach Shay Given: “Driving from Belfast up to Donegal, you see these GAA pitches and clubhouses done up, everything’s so professional. The money goes into the grassroots. Then there’s soccer pitches that are mudheaps. Football needs investment, and more than 10 grand a club. Competition