McGeady: I was a luxury player who needed to change
IT is the game that everyone connected with Celtic would probably rather forget, but Aiden McGeady will always remember the Artmedia Bratislava debacle as a watershed for his career. The Parkhead midfielder spoke at length yesterday about how he had developed his game from that of a luxury component within the Celtic squad to a genuine team player. His presence on the left flank is a crucial part of Gordon Strachan’s scheming for success this season, with McGeady working as tirelessly to aid his defence as he does to create attacking mischief.
Strachan’s influence has been crucial in moulding a more rounded footballer, but McGeady also undertook some unflinching selfexamination early on in the manager’s tenure at Parkhead. The infamous 5-0 defeat in Bratislava in the 2005 Champions League qualifiers was Strachan’s first competitive match in charge. It was also to have a profound effect on McGeady’s.
“There was a period after we played Bratislava when I was out of the team for nine or 10 games,” said the 21-yearold. “I wasn’t even coming on from the bench. I realised in myself that I had to change the way I was playing and look at parts of my game. It all started to come together and I got back into the team. The manager maybe took more of a shine to me than he had in the past.
“I think I’ve improved on a lot of things, although I know I’m not the finished article and still have work to do. The main thing has been my defending and tracking back. When I was younger that wasn’t something I concentrated on. I suppose you could say I was more of a luxury player.
“Gordon Strachan has changed my outlook because when Martin O’Neill was the manager I wasn’t asked to do a lot of defensive duties. I realise now that it’s part and parcel of the game and you have to do it for the team. It’s not the pretty side of the game, but it’s essential.”
McGeady has found inspiration during his programme of improvement from watching Cristiano Ronaldo’s development at Old Trafford.
“He’s been a different player from the one who first made his debut at Manchester United,” said McGeady. “He’s added goals to his game, but you can also see that he works back for the team and gives them an extra hand. He’s probably one of the players I look at, to be honest.”
McGeady was left out of the starting line-up in favour of Paul Hartley for the first leg of the Champions League third qualifying round tie against Spartak Moscow. The Russians visit Parkhead on Wednesday night, leaving McGeady all the more keen to impress against Hearts this afternoon.
“I could understand why I didn’t play in Moscow, but it was still disappointing because these are the big games,” said McGeady. “The manager knew Spartak were strong at home and I think he wanted to go with a more defensive line-up. That was what he said to me. It was his decision and I respect it.”
McGeady was promptly restored for last week’s 3-1 win over Aberdeen and a clear sign of his current confidence came when he briefly displaced Shunsuke Nakamura from free-kick duties.
“Naka is one of the best around at hitting free-kicks but he very rarely scores them from the left-hand side of the box,” said McGeady. “I’m not too bad but I’m not at his level. There was one in the Falkirk game before when I asked him if I could hit it and he said ‘No, next time.’That was the one he scored, actually. I thought ‘fair enough’ because he stuck it in the top corner.
“I asked him if he fancied the one against Aberdeen but he said that I could hit it because it probably more suited a right-footer. I was more than happy to take it, but I got stick from the boys afterwards, asking who’d said I could get in before Naka. I tried to stand up for myself and tell them he’d said it was okay, but they weren’t having it.”