When Aiden McGeady first appeared in the Celtic first team he was a precociously talented but frustratingly erratic teenager, struggling to get a run of games under manager Martin O’Neill, who remained ferociously loyal to the old guard. A few years later he had blossomed into the club’s prize asset but he left under something of a cloud, with some supporters feeling he’d ‘worked his ticket’ out of Parkhead. The Premiership was thought to be his preferred destination but Spartak Moscow were the only ones to show Celtic the colour of their money. Now, with Fulham apparently leading the chase for the Scots-born Irish international, he may end up in England after all.
McGeady is the archetypical ‘old-fashioned winger’. With a bag of tricks that would put Paul Daniels to shame, Celtic fans never tired of the sight of him leaving bemused defenders in his wake. A less welcome regular sight was watching him jink his way to the byline only to sclaff the cross or hit the first man. In his final season at Celtic, his distribution and end product improved immeasurably but he still had a tendency to play with his head down, and his awareness of where his team-mates were was not always finely tuned.
He was still the best entertainment at Celtic Park, though, and maybe the best player in the team. He’s played in different positions since his move to Moscow but to Celtic fans he was the king of the wing. This is, after all, the man who was once spontaneously applauded by Alessandro Nesta after Cruyff-turning his way down AC Milan’s right flank.
Despite a good start that saw him quickly establish himself as a fans’ favourite, it hasn’t been straightforward for McGeady in Moscow. In and out of the side, struggling with injury and more recently played out of position to accommodate the arrival of former Everton man Bilyaletdinov it hasn’t exactly been plain sailing.
However, all but the most zealous of Scottish football fans would have to admit the overall standard of Russian football is way above the SPL and from what little it’s been possible to see of him since he went to Russia, it seems he’s risen to the challenge. He looks a more mature and complete player with better vision and decision-making. That, combined with the raw flair that was never in doubt, makes him a potential danger to any defence.
With manager Unai Emeri recently sacked, former manager and current Director of Football Valery Karpin, is back in charge of first team affairs at Spartak. That’s not good for McGeady’s future at the club. In his last spell as manager, Karpin dropped him from the side amid persistent rumours of a bust-up.
Karpin’s return, albeit in a temporary capacity as things stand, could easily spell the end of the Russian adventure. Even if Karpin doesn’t want him out, it’s sure to make the player himself uneasy and maybe he’ll be working his ticket again come January. He probably wanted to move to England when he left Celtic, so he may push to make it happen this time around, especially with Fulham credited with an interest.
Winger’s a difficult position to play in the Premiership, where space is hard to come by and tactics are becoming ever more defensive. Fewer teams are playing with genuine width, and the match-winners are the ones who can play in between the lines and pick the locks. Although he’s played this role in Russia, it’s a waste of his natural abilities. McGeady is at his best when he’s hugging the touchline, tying full-backs in knots.
If he’s to make the grade in England it has to be with the right team. Fulham might be a decent match - in many ways he’s a natural successor to Damien Duff. When he’s on form, there are few defenders who can live with him, so, for all that he has clear weaknesses in his game, he has the skill to succeed and the style of play that fans love. There’s no better entertainment on a football pitch than a winger skinning a defender and in that respect McGeady would be well worth a few million quid of anybody’s money.