Why Andy Reid is the perfect metaphor for Irish soccer

Paul Fennessy
Why Andy Reid is the perfect metaphor for Irish soccer
Why Andy Reid is the perfect metaphor for Irish soccer

A little over nine years ago, Jose Mourinho made a rare visit to Lansdowne Road. He was there to scrutinise one of his star players, Damien Duff. The Portuguese coach had only just taken over as Chelsea boss, and had so far neglected to pick the Irish winger. However Duff put in a good performance that day, and shortly thereafter, became a regular fixture in the Chelsea side, helping them to win both the Premier League and the League Cup that same season.

Amid any other routine 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Cyprus, that story would have been the main talking point. However, instead, the majority of the post-match attention was devoted to a then-22-year-old young midfielder named Andy Reid. Brian Kerr, who was manager at the time, described Reid’s performance as “phenomenal,” while the Irish media compared him favourably to Liam Brady. He scored a beautiful curling strike and genuinely dictated the game that day, in manner of which Roy Keane or Xavi would approve.

Both Duff and Robbie Keane had fully announced themselves on the world stage two years previously at the World Cup, and it seemed as if Reid was ready to follow suit. Of course, the standard of opposition was far from exceptional, but they were a team that would go on to infamously beat Ireland 5-2 just two years later, while Reid had also previously stood out in games against Brazil, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

So everything looked set in place for Andy Reid to have a distinguished career in which he would become an integral member of the Ireland side. His consistently excellent performances at club level for Nottingham Forest were also beginning to raise eyebrows. It was therefore no real surprise when Tottenham availed of his services — particularly as the then-assistant Ireland manager, Chris Hughton, was also a coach there.

Spurs eventually bought himself and Michael Dawson on the last day of the January 2005 transfer window for a combined fee of £8 million — with Reid reportedly attracting the vast majority of the sum.

Yet, in hindsight, it’s hard not to view Reid as being emblematic of that era’s broken promise, which was originally prompted by the vast success of Brian Kerr’s Irish underage sides. These teams played football in the right manner, and were full of good young skillful and technically proficient players such as Reid, Liam Miller and Stephen McPhail. However, the majority of those individuals who came third in the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship and won the 1998 European Youth Championship at both the under-16 and under-18 age group, never quite made an impact beyond that level.

While Reid has undoubtedly fared better than most of his contemporaries from the glory days, his career has so far largely been characterised by unfulfilled potential. While Damien Duff and Robbie Keane — two of the other attacking stars from Kerr’s gilded youth teams — have 100 and 130 caps respectively, Reid has 28. Even Glenn Whelan, a player with considerably less natural talent than Reid, has made almost twice as many appearances for Ireland as him (53, to be exact). Michael Dawson, who was originally viewed as the makeweight in the deal to bring Reid to Spurs, is now captain of the club, whereas Reid has long since departed White Hart Lane. In every conceivable way, disappointment and underachievement is conspicuous. Hence, it’s hard not to view Reid as the perfect metaphor for Irish soccer — exactly the type of player that Roy Keane frequently speaks of in critical terms, someone who could and should be playing at a more advanced level, yet he finds himself in the relative obscurity of the Championship.

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In 2008, Trapattoni effectively banned Reid from the Irish squad for playing his guitar too late at night — a decision that fellow squad member, Kevin Kilbane, has since described as an “absolute travesty”. And while most people were not privy to exactly what went on in that room, the punishment still does seem particularly harsh — would Robbie Keane have been treated the same way if he was the offender? Therefore, it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that this innocuous incident was a convenient excuse to ostracise a footballer that Trapattoni had no real interest in playing anyway.

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Controversies aside though, Reid did not deserve a place in Trap’s team for the majority of the Italian’s tenure. His displays at club level were simply not good enough. After performing relatively well at Charlton following his disastrous spell at Spurs, he was bought by Sunderland, where again he conducted himself with distinction at first. However, he soon fell out of favour there, before experiencing another unsuccessful loan period at Blackpool.

Tellingly, in 2009, when asked about Reid, then-Ipswich manager Roy Keane said: “Andy Reid has as much quality as any player but he doesn’t deserve to be in the Ireland squad at this moment in time, as he’s not doing enough. I think Reidy could be fitter.”

The question of fitness is one that has dogged Reid throughout his career. Even since his Charlton days, there have been regular reports of Reid being ‘rejuvenated’ and ‘looking leaner than ever’. However, these claims seem to ring a little hollow when, only a few weeks later, he is suddenly out of the first team again. Nonetheless, there have been similar noises made about the player enjoying a ‘return to form’ at Nottingham Forest this year. He has scored his fair share of characteristically classy goals in the Championship, and played well during Ireland’s recent defeat of Kazakhstan.

And perhaps not all of Reid’s past failures are his own fault. When I recently asked a Sunderland-based journalist why Reid never really made it at the Stadium of Light, he said it was because the team’s increasingly pragmatic desire to play pure route-one, put-em-under-pressure-based football rendered him surplus to requirements. In other words, he wasn’t dropped because he was playing badly, but because of his physical shortcomings and overly elegant style of play. Yet surely, a degree of responsibility must be placed on Reid’s shoulders too — if he was playing well enough, he would hardly have been dropped in the first place.

Accordingly, all he can do now is continue to show the type of form he has regularly been displaying this season for Nottingham Forest. And if anyone in the Irish managerial set up is accustomed to second chances, it’s Roy Keane, who will undoubtedly appreciate Reid’s footballing intelligence and passing ability, while recognising that they could prove to be invaluable assets to the Irish squad — which is largely devoid of such gifts — if harnessed correctly.

Hence, perhaps it’s not too late for either Keane or Reid. Perhaps the pre-Saipan optimism inspired by Ireland’s multiple successes at youth level coupled with the inspirational manner in which they qualified for the 2002 World Cup can be belatedly recovered.

After all, Reid is still only 31. Xavi is 33 and still a fundamental member of the Spanish squad. Andrea Pirlo was the same age as his Spanish counterpart in the summer of 2012, when he regularly ran the midfielder for Italy at the Euros and emerged as arguably the player of the tournament. Reid is at nowhere near the same level as the aforementioned two individuals, but their success is at least proof that there is room in international football for an aging star that harsher critics would deem a luxury player. Moreover, Martin O’Neill’s recent claim that he wanted the team to play with “a bit of style” will seem a little insincere if he opts to pick more conservative players such as Glenn Whelan and Paul Green ahead of the Nottingham Forest star.

And should the management decide to place faith in the midfielder by selecting him in the upcoming friendlies against Latvia and Poland, Irish fans will hope Reid embraces a similarly positive philosophy and adopts a level of consistency that he hasn’t always shown. Otherwise, he will forever be renowned as, at best, a guitar hero rather than a footballing one.

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