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The ballad of Andy Reid, one of the most gifted Irish footballers of his generation

The midfelder announced his retirement from football yesterday.

Ireland's Andy Reid speaks to the press.
Ireland's Andy Reid speaks to the press.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

12 YEARS AGO, Jose Mourinho paid a 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.

Source: BloodlustYT/YouTube

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 — who announced his retirement from football yesterday — 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 U16 and U18 age group, never quite made the same impact beyond that level.

While Reid has undoubtedly fared better than most of his contemporaries from the glory days, his career has been characterised by unfulfilled potential. While Damien Duff and Robbie Keane — two of the other attacking stars from Kerr’s gilded youth teams — both broke the 100-cap mark, Reid made just 29 international appearances overall.

Even Glenn Whelan, a good honest player but someone with considerably less natural talent than Reid, has made over twice as many appearances for Ireland as the Nottinghma Forest legend (73, to be exact).

Michael Dawson, who was originally largely regarded as the less significant part of the deal to bring Reid to Spurs, went on to become captain of the club, whereas Reid departed White Hart Lane after a year having struggled to make an impact in his 26 appearances for the club.

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 more often than not found himself in the relative obscurity of the Championship.

Soccer - npower Football League Championship - Peterborough United v Nottingham Forest - London Road Reid enjoyed the best years of his career at Nottingham Forest, making over 200 appearances during two spells there. Source: Tony Marshall

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. 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.

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 disappointing spell at Spurs, he was bought by Sunderland, where again he conducted himself with distinction at first. However, he soon fell out of favour at the Stadium of Light, before experiencing another unsuccessful loan period at Blackpool.

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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 dogged Reid throughout his career. Ever 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 were similar noises made about the player enjoying a ‘return to form’ at Nottingham Forest towards the end of his career. He scored his fair share of characteristically classy goals in the Championship, and played well during Ireland’s 2014 World Cup qualifying defeat of Kazakhstan with Noel King in charge temporarily following Trapattoni’s departure.

Moreover, surely not all of Reid’s past failures were his own fault. When I once 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.

His last Ireland appearance came in Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge as manager — a 17-minute cameo amid a 3-0 friendly victory over Latvia.

Source: Hadleigh McKinlay/YouTube

O’Neill had always insisted that he wanted his Irish team to play with “a bit of style” — a refreshing statement in the wake of the dire approach that characterised five years of the Giovanni Trapattoni era.

The presence of Reid along with the similarly technically proficient and previously neglected Wes Hoolahan in the team during the first game of the O’Neill era indicated the Ireland manager meant what he said.

Ultimately, however, fate intervened, and injuries meant Reid was unavailable for selection for virtually the entirety of the O’Neill era.

With more luck, the 34-year-old could have enjoyed a Hoolahan-esque late renaissance — but instead, in terms of his international career, he is destined be remembered as a guitar hero rather than a footballing one.

A version of this piece was originally published on 14 November, 2013

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Paul Fennessy

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