BY Ronan Murphy
When, in 2010, Aiden McGeady left Celtic to join Russian giants Spartak Moscow, the Hoops had just finished runners-up to Rangers in the Scottish Premier League for the second season in a row while Spartak were climbing the RPL table after a poor start to the 2010 season. The move came as a surprise at the time, as the Ireland international had been linked with a move to Aston Villa.
However, Neil Lennon accepted a bid of £9.5 million for the winger, resigned to the fact McGeady was on his way out of Celtic Park.
"I won't be relieved at Aiden going because I'll be losing my best player and nobody wants to do that but we feel it's good money for a top player," Lennon told The Guardian in the days leading up to McGeady's departure.
|MCGEADY'S SPARTAK FILE
Celtic did indeed lose their star man, but the money received for the record SPL export was poured back into the club. Celtic brought in Gary Hooper, Anthony Stokes, Kris Commons, and Emilio Izaguirre during the summer transfer window, while also getting Fraser Forster on loan.
The Bhoys missed out on the SPL title by a point, but had improved immeasurably, and no-one was shocked when they returned to the top of the table for the 2011-12 season, finishing 20 points ahead of bitter rivals Rangers.
Celtic's stock has improved further despite the departure of McGeady, with Hooper, Forster and Commons all becoming key players, while the winger has also progressed despite early frustrations in Moscow.
The acquisition of McGeady coincided with Spartak's return to form in the RPL, and they finished a respectable fourth in his first season.
McGeady, always a tricky player, had initial trouble settling in a new country, but impressed on the pitch nonetheless, being named at right-wing in the Russian Football Union's top 33 players of the season, having just played a third of the campaign. Under Valeri Karpin, McGeady was afforded a freer role than at Celtic, and has thus improved as a player.
The defensive side of his game has come on greatly, while his decision making when on the ball is also better. A first-choice player for the Republic of Ireland, McGeady can be inconsistent for his national team, being straight-jacketed by Giovanni Trapattoni's rigid tactics.
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However, it has not been smooth sailing at Spartak. McGeady had a high-profile dispute last season with Karpin, and was fined by the club for not putting enough effort in on the training pitch. Spartak legend Oleg Romantsev publicly said that more was expected from the 26-year-old, suggesting that McGeady should see a psychologist. He was left out of the first team for a couple of games, but returned to the side towards the end of the season, in time to help Spartak snatch a Champions League place on the last day of the season.
In May, Spartak Moscow appointed former Valencia coach Unai Emery as coach, and the Spaniard has kept faith in the Irishman, deploying him on the right in the league and in Europe. McGeady stood out as one of Spartak's best performers against Barcelona at Camp Nou, getting an assist for Romulo's goal, and has also netted twice in seven league appearances this season.
He's now a key figure at the Luzhniki Stadium, as well as being relied on to provide creativity for Ireland. McGeady is expected to receive a warm welcome on his return to Celtic Park in December, but will face off against his old club on Tuesday night in Moscow.
Neil Lennon has marked McGeady out as one of Spartak's key players, and is wary about the damage his former player can cause. "We know their strengths and know all about Aiden. He’s doing very well for them and will be a danger," Lennon told The Daily Record.
"It looks like he’s enjoying his football. Credit to him for that. It can’t be easy to go to a new environment and culture and prosper. He has improved again and taken his game on. If he comes back to bite us then that’s football."