Aiden McGeady Exclusive On Life At Everton And Speaking His Mind

For a man who has “mellowed over the past few years”, Aiden McGeady remains tremendously forthright.

McGeady is into his 36th year and gladly admits he’d tear a strip off a junior teammate who mirrored the outspoken attitude of his own firebrand youth.

“I don’t speak my mind so much because I’ve learned it doesn’t do you any favours,” says McGeady, whose life in football is pockmarked by stramashes – to borrow from his Glaswegian vernacular – with an assortment of managers.

But the player’s candour and ability to compel don’t suffer for his tighter lips.

McGeady’s take on how he imagines Evertonians view his three-and-a-half years at Goodison Park, for example, is unsparing.

The winger played 43 times after joining from Spartak Moscow in January 2014.

He never started more than three successive games and his demotion to the bench one week after scoring a stunning goal at Leicester City on the opening day of 2014/15 told the story of McGeady’s Everton career in microcosm.

“The fans probably say, ‘He was horrendous’,” says McGeady.

“And it’s hard to say it was great.

“But I still think Everton is a good club, of course it is, and I would make the decision [to join] again.

“I’m not making excuses. I had some decent games and didn’t play well in others but I never got a run in the team.

“It is difficult when you know, if you don’t play well, you’re out for the next few weeks. I’d try too hard, do things I normally wouldn’t and give the ball away.

“Other players would get runs of six or seven games. Maybe that is what the manager thought of me but it was frustrating.”

Aiden McGeady
It is difficult when you know, if you don’t play well, you’re out for the next few weeks. I’d try too hard, do things I normally wouldn’t and give the ball away

The teenage McGeady, with his close control and balance and capacity to waltz past defenders on demand, was the talk of Scottish football.

His father was an enormous influence on McGeady’s development and early career choices.

John McGeady made his debut for Sheffield United on Boxing Day 1975, aged 17, but months later broke his kneecap in an accidental collision with Manchester City defender Willie Donachie.

“The specialist made a few bad decisions,” in John’s words, and after repeated relapses and the eventual removal of his kneecap, McGeady senior, also a winger, retired at 23.

Aiden didn’t catch the football bug “until one day, when I was about eight, a switch flicked and I couldn’t stop playing”.

“I had a natural ability to run with the ball and beat players, no-one taught me that,” continues McGeady.

“It wouldn’t have bothered my dad if I’d said I didn’t want to play.

“But because I wanted to be a footballer, he was there to help. He’d get me practising with both feet and drummed in that I needed to learn to pass to teammates.”

McGeady was in the crosshairs of a clutch of England’s elite clubs by the age of 12.

Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United was very keen but Arsenal made the strongest play.

Liam Brady, that doyen of wide players with a gorgeous left foot, oversaw Arsenal’s youth system and would regularly fly McGeady south to train and play matches.

But, come decision time at 16, the featherweight talent chose Celtic, the club he supported and originally joined from Queen’s Park aged 14.

“Arsenal were entering their Invincibles era,” begins McGeady. “My dad hammered home how few players make it to the first team.

“I’d have been moving to London and living in digs.

“My dad did that at Sheffield United.

“He said, “If you sign for Celtic, you can stay at home, see your mates, and… have a better chance of making it.

“The decision was vindicated. I was playing first-team football at 18.”

McGeady modestly refers to leaving school with “good results”. He was a straight-A student, never allowed to lose sight of the fragility of football by parents who wanted their son to pursue a degree alongside playing for Celtic.

Trying to squeeze further education around long days at Celtic’s tough school, however, would have amounted to a fool’s errand.  

McGeady is grateful to belong to an era whose football training was accompanied by countless menial tasks.

“There was a rota,” explains McGeady, “so one week, for example, you’d be based with the first team.

“You’d get in at 8am to clean the stadium and kit, then after training it was back to clean boots and wash kits and pick up towels and sweep the dressing rooms.

“You’d stay until 5pm, waiting for the first-team kit to dry, then roll it up and put it in place.

“It gave you a work ethic and appreciation of what it means to earn a living.”

That early experience of interacting with uncompromising senior men of the ilk of John Hartson and Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon was invaluable when McGeady was bumped up to first-team training.

“It was a sink-or-swim environment,” says McGeady.

“If you weren’t playing well or training properly, they would tell you, and not in a polite way.

“You had to come out the other side better or go into your shell and never be seen again.

“It was cut-throat, you played with men and they were big personalities.

“It could be difficult but I enjoyed it and that experience is probably one of the reasons I am where I am.”

McGeady’s tendency to run off at the mouth was at its height as he advanced at Celtic.

“I had a bit of an arrogance when I was quite young,” he concedes, acknowledging the trait was both friend and foe.

“It is a useful quality if you channel it the right way,” says McGeady. “I had the strength of character to handle the senior environment.

“But there were times I was too arrogant and cheeky and big-time for my own good.

“Managers didn’t want to take away what made me, me.

“But I was brought down a peg or two a few times, don’t worry about that.”

McGeady specifies one such instance when, aged 16, he was a non-playing member of a Celtic Under-21 squad.

Asked by manager Kenny McDowall if he understood the purpose of the experience, McGeady answered in the negative.  

“I didn’t see what the experience was,” says McGeady, “travelling in the morning, then sitting there on a Monday night watching the Under-21s play.”

McDowall kept his powder dry until an impromptu meeting the following day.

First-team assistant manager John Robertson was waiting when McGeady walked in the room.

“He tore me apart,” says McGeady.

“He belittled me to the point I was thinking, ‘Am I even a good player anymore?’

“It was what I needed and in football, as soon as it’s done, it’s forgotten.

“A few months later I was starting for the Under-21s.

“If I was a manager and had a young player say that to me, I’d do exactly the same.”

McGeady sizzled from the word go after reaching Celtic’s first team. He scored 17 minutes into his debut against Hearts, three weeks after turning 18 in April 2004.

The attacker was crowned both Scotland’s Players’ Player and Young Player of the Year following an annus mirabilis in 2007/08, when McGeady won his fourth domestic title and Celtic reached the Champions League last-16 for the second successive season.

“I was playing for the club I supported, winning trophies and playing in Europe, which was all amazing – but there is so much pressure and expectation,” says McGeady.

“If you don’t win, it is a crisis.

“It is a brilliant city but everyone in Glasgow is football obsessed and it can be difficult to get a minute to yourself. That is one of the reasons I left.”

McGeady anticipated a move to England in 2010, only for Spartak to stump up £9.5m to force Celtic and the player’s hand.

“People expected me to last six months,” says McGeady, who so emphatically confounded his doubters he still monitors Russian politics today and “reads books and watches documentaries on the country and Putin”.

McGeady remains a Spartak supporter, too, and watched wistfully when the club ended a 16-year wait for a domestic title in 2017.

The closest McGeady came to a championship was a runner’s-up finish during a terrific first full campaign – 2011/12 – when the forward immersed himself in the alien rhythms of life and football in his new country.

“The doctor weighed you every morning and there was a fine if you were above your set weight,” says McGeady, who could “get by” in the language within 12 months.

“You would train in the morning, sleep in your own bedroom at the training ground, then have another session at 6.30pm. At Celtic, I’d be home by 1.30pm.

“But you have to embrace the culture and I enjoyed it.

“It was more difficult for my wife, being alone in Moscow when we were gone for a few days for away games.

“But the lifestyle when we were together was good. The nightlife and shopping are great and it’s a brilliant city to live.”

Spartak wanted to keep McGeady longer. But the player would go away with Republic of Ireland – the country for whom he won 92 caps after declaring for the Irish following a rules shemozzle that prevented him from representing Scotland Schools – and cast envious glances at teammates from the Premier League.

Additionally, news of McGeady’s Spartak exploits – other than the more controversial episodes – rarely escaped the Russian border.

McGeady made no bones about wanting out and spent his closing weeks training with the youth team.

Valery Karpin, the Spartak manager, rued the exit of a player who “wasn’t easy… but what a footballer”.

“When I hear that… it would have been good to stay and be somewhere you’re really appreciated,” says McGeady.

“I got on well with the manager. He was quite strict and regimented and I would have welcomed that more if I’d gone there when I was older.

“After three years, I thought, ‘If I stay, I’ll never play in England and the best years of my career will be in Russia’.”

McGeady returned to Glasgow for the 2013 winter break expecting a transfer – but not quite so soon.

Which is why he received messages from former Spartak teammates noting his physique after signing for Everton.

“They were telling me I looked a few kilos heavier,” says McGeady.

“I had Christmas and New Year off – and my head was gone a bit.

“I was doing what I wanted, not thinking I would be signing for Everton in a week’s time.”

McGeady chose Everton because “it was a big club, with a great fanbase and history, and felt like the ideal fit with a manager [Roberto Martinez] who I thought liked me”.

The player had no issue with a steady introduction after arriving mid-season but the frustration of intermittent action the following campaign gave way to a feeling of helplessness after McGeady was withdrawn at half-time of a League Cup tie with Barnsley in August 2015.

Everton were trailing 2-0 and would win 5-3.

“I wasn’t even making the bench after that,” says McGeady.

“I was being told to keep doing what I was in training but over time, I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work’.”

After a loan to Sheffield Wednesday turned sour when McGeady fell out with manager Carlos Carvalhal, the player inwardly questioned, ‘Why am I still doing this?’

McGeady went to the 2016 European Championship nonetheless but returned to learn he didn’t figure in the plans of new Everton boss Ronald Koeman.

A race against time to find a new club before the transfer cut-off concluded with McGeady joining Preston North End on loan.

“I appreciated Koeman’s honesty,” says McGeady. “He didn’t waste my time.

“But I’d gone 18 months without enjoying football.

“A lot of managers were put off by things they’d heard about my time at Sheffield Wednesday.

“Preston wasn’t an obviously attractive offer but it was the best thing I could have done.

“I almost treated it like playing football with my mates in the park and rediscovered my love of the game.”

McGeady has been with Sunderland since the summer of 2017 – save for a short loan at Charlton Athletic in 2019/20 – and after early turbulence has emerged as a key player for the League One side.

“My family are settled and it is a great club with a really passionate fanbase," he says.

McGeady insists he will play as long as his body permits.

But when time eventually catches up with a player once courted by the cream of English football, how will he reflect on a winding career?

“That’s a totally different question, isn’t it?” says McGeady.

“When I was 14 or 15, people probably thought I was going to be world class, which is massive pressure to carry on your shoulders.

“But I am playing at 35 and still enjoying it. I have played in different countries, in the Premier League and Champions League, 90-odd times for my country.

“I think I can look back and say, ‘That was not bad’.”

It’s a suitably measured outlook from the tamer Aiden McGeady. 

Aiden McGeady
I have played in different countries, in the Premier League and Champions League, 90-odd times for my country. I think I can look back and say, ‘That was not bad’.