For two decades Shay Given was a familiar presence in Premier League goalmouths, pulling off spectacular point-blank saves and earning an undisputed reputation for being one of the best goalkeepers in the modern era. Only two other players have ever appeared more in a Newcastle jersey while his 134 caps for the Republic of Ireland is a testament to his astounding consistency at the very highest level. After eleven years at St James’ Park, moves to Manchester City and Aston Villa followed for the agile stopper who was included in the PFA Team of the Year on two separate occasions.
Here the Irish legend discusses the varying fortunes of three of his former clubs starting with the recently crowned Premier League champions and a goalkeeper intent on ripping up the playbook.
City are champions for the long-haul
It is always interesting to seek out the opinion of retired number ones on the extreme sweeper-keepering of Manchester City’s Ederson Moraes. This is especially true of Given who revelled in playing out from the back before it became fashionable.
Even so, when it comes to all-round quality the 42 year old insists that the brilliant Brazilian remains the second best in the city of Manchester.
“On the other side of the city of course is Ederson and he has just won the Premier League in his first season. He’s relatively young and still learning his trade and if you asked Pep Guardiola this same question he’d go with Ederson because of how good he is at the back and keeping the ball. He picks people out fifty, sixty yards up the pitch. At times you think it’s a miskick along the ground but it’s to Jesus’ feet and he’s turning and away. It’s a different kind of goalkeeper but at the same time he’s made big saves this season as well and he’s got a great future ahead of him.”
The former keeper turned pundit was recently present for the trophy-parading celebration at the Etihad after City completed their third title in seven years. Having signed for the club in 2009 at the start of their incredible journey he has witnessed close-at-hand the transformation that has taken place by the blue half of Manchester.
“You have to give a great deal of credit to Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak the chairman who I have met on numerous occasions and he has a great passion for the club. They are here for the long-haul and what they’ve done for the club speaks for itself. It’s awesome and you only have to look at the jobs they have created in Manchester and obviously the brand because City are massive now around the world.”
“They said they were going to do all this when they came in but initially people are always sceptical aren’t they because owners have come in before and sold up after a couple of years. They deserve great credit for sticking to what they said.”
Newcastle need to strengthen or risk losing Rafa
North-east of the Etihad meanwhile an owner continues to survey his kingdom while the Newcastle fans hope in vain that he does sell up and move on.
Since taking control at St James’ Park in 2007 Mike Ashley has proven to be an immensely unpopular figurehead among the Geordie faithful with his reluctance to invest on the pitch and a sacrilegious decision taken seven years ago to rename the sacred ground after his sporting goods company.
Having experienced Ashley’s roughshod methods first-hand when his transfer to Manchester City turned sour Given despairs of how his beloved club is being run.
“You wonder about Amanda Staveley and whether that’s all dead in the water. If someone did come forward and offer financial support then with Rafa in charge I think they could do big things.”
If the boardroom is distrusted by the Toon Army the same can certainly not be said of the man who inhabits the dug-out with Rafa Benitez greatly impressing with his managerial nous and striking up a genuine connection with the fan-base. How important is it that the Spaniard’s services are retained this summer?
“It’s massive. He brings so much to the football club and he’s a big presence with the city not just Newcastle United. He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience and he’s in that top bracket of managers. He could go to most jobs in Europe and he’s quite sought after and that’s my concern – can they keep him this summer? That will come down to the owner and his support but we don’t want to lose him.”
“His work this year has been phenomenal on not a big budget but will he want to do the same again? It’s a worry for the fans that he might leave.”
Benitez has rightfully and widely been praised for coercing a Championship-standard squad into the top ten of the top flight yet in Jamaal Lascelles they have a centre-back of rare quality. Does Given believe the 24 year should be Russia-bound this June?
“Lascelles is a young defender of course but he is clearly a leader both on the pitch and off it and he’s captain of Newcastle as well. There are still a couple of places to be finalised and I think he could be one of them to get on the plane. Obviously there is Smalling and Jones at Manchester United and Maguire has done well but Cahill hasn’t been in the last couple of squads and there is room for Lascelles.”
Bruce is perfect for Villa
Further south in the Midlands we reach Villa Park where Given was forced to display his excellent shot-stopping talents perhaps more than he would have wished during a mixed four year spell.
Having endured relegation in 2016 the Villans are now preparing for the tumultuous and tense ordeal of the Play-Offs with a season-defining semi-final against Middlesbrough imminent. Does the veteran stopper believe his former club can prevail?
“We all know it’s a bit of a lottery but they have a good chance because they’ve got an experienced group of players. Some of them have been there before and Steve Bruce has definitely been there before as a manager. He knows how to get the job done. I hope to see them back up there because they’re a huge club with a great stadium and fan-base. We’ve seen a full house at Villa Park again this season and it’s great to see that atmosphere returning.”
Looking beyond the critical next two games does Given believe they have the right man in charge to take the club forward?
“Yeah I do and I said that at the start of the season when they had a poor start. I said they just needed to relax and take a deep breath because he’s been here before and knows how to get out of the Championship. It’s a long season and ultimately he’s proven a lot of people wrong again. He’s the perfect man to get them up.”
Jack is the lad for England
Moving away from club allegiances it would be remiss to be in the company of such a venerable master in the art of goalkeeping and not enquire who he thinks should be starting between the sticks for England this summer. Here Given is torn not by club association but friendships.
“It’s a difficult one for me to answer because I’ve worked with Joe Hart and I’ve worked with Jack Butland. The ‘tell’ for me came in the recent friendlies when Gareth Southgate picked Jordan Pickford to play the first game – that said to me that he could start.”