Given: despite the headline-makers and many millions, Hughes' best signing yet

Last Monday's 1-1 draw with another side who hope to sneak into this year's top four, Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa, marked the 400th league appearance of Shay Given's career. The £6m signing from Newcastle in January stands as perhaps Hughes' best piece of business since taking charge, despite all the publicity, big fees and talk of forwards, it's the Donegal-born stopper who's quietly made the biggest impression.

Given's first big break came as far back ago as 1991, spotted playing for local side Lifford Celtic by their namesake and his idols from Glasgow. Two years at Celtic would see Shay fail to make the breakthrough to the first team, and he'd move to join Blackburn Rovers, then managed by Kenny Dalglish. The following season would see the Lancashire side crowned Premier League champions, but only one League Cup appearance would see him miss out on a medal.

In goal for Blackburn then was Tim Flowers, later to be a coach at City. Two loan spells would follow, firstly at Swindon Town, then five months at Sunderland, where he'd keep twelve clean sheets in seventeen games as the Wearside club won the First Division title. He'd then follow Dalglish to St. James Park, the Liverpool legend having moved upstairs at previous club Blackburn before leaving altogether following a dip in form under replacement Ray Harford.

For twelve years Given would be a mainstay in the Newcastle team, through the good times of respectable league finishes under the late Sir Bobby Robson, and the bad, only leaving in the year that they were finally relegated. Through a six-year period especially, from 2000/01 to 2005/06 Given would miss only six league games, and earn himself plaudits from fans up and down the country.

Why Shay was never snapped up by one of the 'big four' is anyone's guess, but i'm sure he'd have had opportunities to leave Newcastle during his years there. As the likes of Arsenal and United have at times struggled to find regular goalkeepers of pedigree, it always surprised me that one who had all the ability and experience in the world would stay for so long at a club in such obvious decline. Perhaps the bond between player and fan had grown so strong that until things had gotten so ridiculous he wanted to hang on, maybe they knew he was too important to lose, who knows.

Over the past few years there haven't been too many goalkeepers of undoubted class in the Premier League, in my opinion. Brad Friedel, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Mark Schwarzer, Peter Cech and David James are the ones who come to mind. James, on his day terrific, notoriously loses the plot occasionally. Cech, maybe the best in the land before his injury, at times shaky since. Schwarzer, massively underated, superb last year, and during his time at Boro. Jaaskelainen, an extraordinary shot-stopper, and Friedel, perhaps the strongest rival to Shay's crown, putting in sterling performances season-on-season for Blackburn and now Villa.

It's difficult to critique Given's game, in that he does very little, perhaps nothing wrong at all. He's very vocal, a good organiser, reads the game superbly, his decision-making is spot on, his handling and distribution are faultless, and he's both steady and reliable but a maker of great saves, too. With him in goal there's never a worry that we might concede through any error on his part, there never was that with Hart, or James, steady as both often were.

In Shay, i think we've got the best 'keeper in the Premier League, and a player who rivals Peter Schmeichel as the best we've seen in the eighteen years since its inception. As well as being technically sound in pretty much every department he brings a wealth of experience and should prove a real asset to the club for many years to come. It would be a crying shame if such a respected professional should end his career, not that that's going to happen any time soon, without a top-flight honour of any kind.


  1. I agree about wanting him to win a major competition, Shays a class shot stopper and it's just a shame he's not 4 inches taller to be unbelievable. Lets be fair and add a (slightly past it now) Van Der Sar to the list of greats as well though.