At least Alan Shearer achieved record goalscorer status on Tyneside before he retired. Being the best goalkeeper the club’s ever had won’t count for quite as much come the end of the Donegal man’s career. They say you have to be crazy to stand between the posts. Crazier still to stay between the wrong ones in your prime.
At 32, Given has still several seasons ahead of him, and hopefully some better defenders than he’s had to put up with over the past 11 years or so as the last line of the leakiest rearguard in English football’s upper echelons.
I didn’t realise he was also a client of Michael Kennedy, the London-based Irish lawyer who represents, among others, Roy Keane. Apropos of nothing other than their falling out in Saipan – when Keane claimed the Irish ‘keepers were more interested in playing golf than training (well, it was “a car park”) – the then Sunderland boss mouthed off across the Northeast about Given only turning up for international friendlies (something Roy was never accused of) just so he could improve his caps count, which currently stands at 91.
Unable to remember the last time the Lifford man had anything resembling a semi-bad game for his country, Irish supporters have never complained about Shay’s commitment to the cause since he succeeded his one-time understudy with club and country, Packie Bonner, in 1996. They’re just thankful that he’s been there to bail us out so often, and resentful only that he hasn’t had the team-mates he’s deserved.
More than anything they’ve been bemused by the blind-spot England’s top clubs have when it comes to the best goalkeeper to have emerged from these islands in donkeys years.
Having been brought to Blackburn from Celtic’s reserves on a free by Kenny Dalglish in 1994, he was loaned out to Swindon and subsequently Sunderland, whom he helped win promotion to the Premier League, keeping 12 clean sheets in his 17 games there.
Taken to St James’s Park by Dalglish for a bargain £1.5m, apart from Shearer (who cost Kevin Keegan ten times’ that a year earlier), Given has been Newcastle’s most consistent shining light over the past decade – save for a brief spell when he lost his place in 2000-’01 and handed in a transfer request, promptly refused – and was named on the top flight team of the season twice in the meantime.
A severe groin-stomach injury a couple of seasons ago made some, Sam Allardyce included, question his prospects of making a complete recovery, mentally as much as physically. However, he’s since returned to his old form (just as David James has of late).
What’s made Given’s mind up to leave at last is the off-field shambles that Newcastle is nowhere near close to extricating itself from. Having taken the club off the market (and it’s moot if he was ever serious about selling) Mike Ashley and his merry men are back in Toon and that’s as good as reason as any to go, Given and his advisors will argue.
However, having immediately preceded the wantaway statement issued through his solicitor, the 5-1 drubbing by Liverpool – in which Given had been singularly heroic – was, most likely, the last straw. Despite Joe Kinnear’s best efforts against long odds, the mess below the surface is never far from the Newcastle coalface.
Where to now then? London (Arsenal, Spurs) or Turin (Juventus), or perhaps somewhere in between that can provide him with the Champions League stage he warrants, and the chance at least of the honours he craves. Whatever their wealth, Manchester City certainly won’t supply that status or opportunity for a long while yet. And Given has never been motivated by money, unless it’s an opportunity to raise some for the many charities he supports (his mother died of the disease when he was five).
At least if he goes to Italy Mr Trapattoni will see more of him.