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Aiden McGeady discusses his new dual role at Ayr United

Aiden McGeady clocked up plenty of air miles in his European adventures with Celtic, Spartak Moscow and the Republic of Ireland.

Now he’s hoping that adding Ayr miles will be the launchpad for the next leg of his football journey.

McGeady has joined Championship club Ayr United in a dual role as player and Technical Manager, and is gearing up for his 20th season in professional football.

The 37-year-old Football Careers client hopes his experience and talent on the pitch will help spark a successful season for the Somerset Park club under Head Coach Lee Bullen. But he is also determined to take the opportunity to add more strings to his bow off the pitch. He said:

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m really interested in exploring other avenues in football and the job at Ayr will give me the chance to do that.

“The title is Technical Manager but I think it’ll be an evolving role and, because it’s quite a small management team, I expect to be involved in a lot of the aspects of the day-to-day running of the club. It’s a chance for me to see how the finances are dealt with, how the recruitment side of things works and to help plan for the club’s future.

“I’ve started working with the Managing Director Graeme Mathie and with everything we’ve spoken about so far, we seem to be on the same page. He’s keen to hear my opinions from a player’s viewpoint and I’ve found that quite refreshing.

Aiden McGeady, Hibernian FC
Image: skysports.com

“There’ll also be a bit of coaching involved. And the bonus for me is that I’ll be carrying on playing. I’ve signed a two-year contract and I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think I could keep playing at a good level for at least the next couple of years.

“Last season at Hibs was a difficult one for me. I tore the medial ligaments in my knee pre-season which kept me out until after the World Cup break. When I returned I felt I was playing well and the team went on a good run. But then I tore my hamstring and had to get surgery on that, so that basically finished my season.

“So I realised I probably wasn’t going to be staying at Hibs. I was realistic enough to know that a 37-year-old who’d had two bad injuries might not be their priority. But I did my rehab and came through that well, I’m back in full-time training and I’m feeling fit and ready for the new season.

“I’ll go into this campaign with my eyes open and I know what to expect. It’s an exciting, competitive league and from what I’ve seen so far I don’t think the level is too far away from the Premiership. I don’t consider it a big step down. There’s a good group of players at Ayr and the club finished second last season so we’ll be looking to build on that.”

For the first season in his career, though, McGeady’s focus won’t just be on delivering results on the pitch as he prepares to make his influence felt behind the scenes.

Those preparations have been going on for a few years now. The veteran attacker is in the process of completing his UEFA A Licence in coaching and is close to graduating with an MSc in Sports Directorship, a course that has given him insight into the many diverse aspects of the football industry.

He has also taken the opportunity to make case study visits to other clubs, visiting Bundesliga club Hoffenheim and spending time at his old Celtic Park stamping ground observing training and discussing club structures and player pathway models with Chief Executive Michael Nicholson. McGeady said:

“I’ve really enjoyed the Sports Directorship course, although at times it has taken me out of my comfort zone. It’s given me experience in doing PowerPoints and presentations, things I had no clue about, and I’m now at the stage of completing my dissertation. It has opened my eyes to a lot of other aspects of football, not just playing and coaching. 

“So I feel like this role at Ayr has come at just the right time. Doing the course has shown me the kind of opportunities that might exist when I finish playing – roles like Sporting Director, Head of Recruitment or Academy Director – and that’s where I think my future might lie.

“It’s rare for someone to get the chance to be involved in the running of a club while they’re still playing. Normally, you have to finish playing to gain the sort of experience that I’ll be getting at Ayr, so it’s a real bonus for me. I’ll get to sit in on board meetings and have regular conversations with the chairman and senior management, as well as contribute to the recruitment processes and have a hand in the coaching sessions and the Academy.

“That will all help me decide which direction I want to go in when I do hang up my boots. At the moment I do feel that being involved in recruitment, managing people, or running an Academy would be a good fit for me rather than being a coach or manager.”

Aiden McGeady, Celtic FC
Image: skysports.com

“I think I have strengths in those departments — to be honest, I don’t think it’s hard to spot talent and potential in a player. As a senior pro who came through the Academy system at Celtic, I’ve also always tried to pass on my knowledge and experience to young players at the various clubs I’ve been at, and I enjoy that mentoring side of things. There’s also possibly more longevity in those roles. If you’re a coach or a manager, even if you do really well, the chances are you’ll get sacked at some point. That’s just the way it is in football.

“So I’m probably looking at those types of roles rather than coaching, but who knows? That may change a few months down the line if I find that I really enjoy coaching. The good thing is that the various qualifications I have, along with the experience from my playing career and the practical experience I’ll get in this role at Ayr, should give me options further down the road. It all adds to the CV.”

And an impressive CV it is too!

Breaking into the Celtic first team at 18, Aiden scored and was named man of the match in his debut against Hearts at Tynecastle — and never looked back. In the following six years, he won four league titles as well as Scottish Cup and League Cup winner’s medals, and was Scotland’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year in the 2007-2008 season. He gained Champions League experience against Euro giants like AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona and kicked off a glittering international career with the Republic of Ireland which would win him 93 caps and feature appearances in the 2012 and 2016 European Championships.

A bright, articulate and vocal young player, McGeady was keen to spread his wings and at just 24 years old he took the bold step of moving to Russia, signing for Spartak Moscow in a then record-breaking £9.6million deal. In the four seasons he spent in Moscow, the club finished runners-up in the Russian Championship and was a prominent force in the major European tournaments. He recalled:

“The whole Russian experience was great. We were in the Champions League, we’d a good team and the standard of the league was good. I really enjoyed my time there although it was hard getting used to all the travelling. I think learning to speak Russian was a bonus — that was appreciated by the supporters and the media. They weren’t used to foreign players making the effort to do press conferences and interviews in their own language.

“My eldest daughter was also born out there so I’ve got a lot of happy memories of my time in Moscow. I was offered a new contract at Spartak, and there were also offers from other clubs in Russia, but I’d always had an ambition to play in the English Premier League so after four years I made the move to Everton. To be honest, if I’d known then what Everton was going to be like, I’d have stayed in Russia!”

The spell at Goodison Park was not the happiest of McGeady’s career. After a bright start, he found himself frozen out of the first team and was placed on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End before being transferred to Sunderland. He said:

“I thought Everton was going to be a good fit but it didn’t work out that way. The loan spells were enjoyable — I loved it at Preston — but I was glad to move on from Everton, and I had five good years at Sunderland despite all the turbulence behind the scenes with the club changing ownership three times and chopping and changing managers every season. I’m not even sure off the top of my head how many managers I had at Sunderland, but there were still plenty of highlights. Having said that, I’ve been lucky to have good memories throughout my career.

“Making my debut for Celtic, when I played alongside Henrik Larsson and scored at Tynecastle, was a special moment for me. Then there were the great Champions League nights at Celtic and Spartak, playing against guys like Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Xavi and Kaka. I also had great times with Ireland and learned a lot from playing under some top-class managers as well as playing with top players like Robbie Keane and Roy Keane.

“It’s also been interesting seeing how all the different managers operate. Some, like Martin O’Neill, are just brilliant at managing a group of players, getting to know their personalities and getting the best out of them. Others are great on the training pitch but not so good at man-management. Then there are others — I probably shouldn’t name them — who seem to go out of their way to annoy players.

“But you learn something from all of them, even if in some cases it’s how not to treat players. These are all lessons I’ll take on board whatever route I go down in the future.”

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