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Eastbound and down: What's gone wrong for Aiden McGeady?

The Ireland winger might be odds-on to start against Croatia on June 10 but he has fallen from grace at Spartak Moscow in recent months.

McGeady in action for Ireland earlier this year.
McGeady in action for Ireland earlier this year.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

JAMES MCCLEAN MAY be the name on everyone’s lips but it is the current form of another Irish winger that Giovanni Trapattoni should be worried about.

1,500 miles east of Sunderland in the Russian capital, Aiden McGeady has cut an unhappy figure at Spartak Moscow these past months.

When the Glasgow-native, who turned 26 yesterday, took the bold step of trading the small pond that is the Scottish Premier League with a completely alien environment, new culture and difficult language, many predicted it would be a short stay.

18 months on McGeady has yet to return, but despite a debut season which saw him live up to the €11m price tag and hailed as one of the most talented players in the country, he has fallen badly out of favour at the club who sit fifth in the table.

What must be a major concern is the fact that out of five league games played since the winter break, he has started just one (against Anzhi Makhachkala when he last 45 miniutes before being withdrawn), came on in three and was an unused substitute in another.

Rather than pinpointing one specific reason for his fall from grace, James Appell, respected football writer and expert on the Eastern European game, believes it is a combination of several factors.

“It’s a mixture of a few things,” Appell told TheScore. “His fitness isn’t as good as it was since he picked up an ankle injury last summer.”

“He’s also struggling with regard to the team selection. Spartak have since signed Diniyar Bilyatletdinov (Everton) and striker Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce) so he’s struggled to adapt to a new system.

But also, there’s been a conflict of personalities. It strikes me that there is some tension between McGeady and Valeri Karpin.”

Reports of a fall-out between player and manager have been surfacing for awhile and Appell says it’s not the first such incident involving the former Celta Vigo midfielder, who replaced Michael Laudrup in 2009 to take the reigns at the club he played for during the early ’90s.

“He’s become one of the notorious managers in the Russian Premier League,” he says. “He likes to pick his fights publically and makes it clear when he doesn’t like someone.”

McGeady playing against Chelsea in the Champions League back in November 2o1o. Credit: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

At international level, McGeady has never fully shaken off the inconsistent streak which means his selection continues to split opinion among Irish fans. Nevertheless, McGeady is currently Trap’s first choice left-sided midfielder and fitness-permitting, is favourite to line out against Croatia on June 10.

The player next in line for a starting berth, Stephen Hunt, has always looked most dangerous when introduced from the bench and is undergoing a minor groin operation today, which seems to strengthen the argument to include McClean in the squad.

With little over a month left before the Italian finalises the 23 names, time is running out for McGeady to force his way into the Spartak team and perform at the level he initially showed.

But is there any way back for him?

Spartak aren’t on the best run and were recently beaten by rivals CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg. If McGeady comes in during the next couple of games, performs well and makes himself undroppable, there’s no reason why can’t rediscover his form.”

If he fails to convince Karpin, there looks to be a couple of options on the table. Just last weekend, Aston Villa were being linked with a move in summer while current Russian champions and league leaders Zenit are reported to be interested and their Italian manager Luciano Spalletti is known to be a fan.

And Appell believes the 2008 UEFA Cup champions would be a good fit.

“There’s definitely a hole in Zenit’s squad if McGeady could recapture his form. Dani has a cruciate ligament injury and there are suspicions about his health.

“In the meantime, they have replaced him with Andrei Arshavin but I don’t think that he will be picked up on a permanent basis, as he hasn’t performed well.”

For the moment, let’s just hope McGeady gets significant playing time in the seven games which remain as Ireland will need the squad firing on all cylinders if they are to have any chance of doing some damage in Group C.

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Ben Blake

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