And so we've reached the conclusion of our series and we reveal Ireland's greatest ever footballer; the elegant playmaker who defined Arsenal in the 1970s - Liam Brady
By Peter Staunton
There are some obvious parallels to be found between the pragmatic football currently purveyed by the Ireland team of Giovanni Trapattoni and that of one of his predecessors, Jack Charlton. However, it is no secret that Trapattoni is working with an inferior pool of players than that which was available to Big Jack. If he had a better standard available, the Italian would no doubt alter his methods.
Charlton, on the other hand, did things differently. He was proudly 'route one' and acquiesced to nobody. He did not trust Liam Brady, the greatest player Ireland has ever produced, to play as he did for Arsenal and Juventus at his peak.
Trapattoni, who coached Brady at Juventus, knew the type of midfielder he had in his ranks and set up his all-star team to maximise the Irishman's impact. Charlton shunned him and would eventually shame him.
Brady in flight during an Ireland internationalJohn Giles and Eoin Hand attempted to mould a talented group into a successful team during their stints in charge of the national team but were undone by some dubious officiating, most notably during qualification for the 1978 World Cup in Paris and Sofia. Even more scandal was to come during the qualifying process for Spain 82 in an away clash at Belgium.
Failures and travesties left Liam Brady bereft of tournament football in the green of his national team from his debut in a memorable win over Soviet Union in 1974 to his enforced retirement on the eve of World Cup 1990. He was the outstanding individual in the Irish set-up for a decade. But his status as uncrowned king of Irish football was scuffed once Charlton took the reins in 1986.
Brady's natural game was anathema to what the England World Cup winner considered appropriate for international football. Charlton did field Brady during the qualification process for Euro 88, Ireland's first appearance in a major finals, and eked some decent performances out of him in a vastly altered role. However, the player himself would miss out on Irish football's finest hour due to a needless suspension accrued for kicking a Bulgarian opponent and, also, an injury he sustained with West Ham.
His lack of esteem in the eyes of Big Jack could not have been more at odds with the reputation he honed at club level. The outstanding player in a transitional Arsenal team through the 70s, think Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal for a recent equivalent, Brady was admired and coveted in equal measure.
His performance against Juventus in the 1979-80 Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals alerted the Italian giants, and Trapattoni, to his worth. When Serie A restrictions on foreign players were lifted that summer, he became the first straniero to sign for an Italian team since 1966.
Brady would share a pitch with some of the finest Juventini of all time; Antonio Cabrini, Claudio Gentile, Paolo Rossi, Gaetano Scirea, Marco Tardelli and Dino Zoff - World Cup winners all.
His relationships with Tardelli and Trapattoni endure; he recently left his role with the Ireland backroom staff to devote himself wholeheartedly to the Arsenal youth system which he has helped to cultivate in it current guise.
Waving the magic wand during the 1979-80 Cup Winners' Cup final against Valencia
Brady arrived from Dublin in 1971 as a 15-year-old and made his presence felt in 1973, signing professional terms on his 17th birthday. Arsenal had won the Double in 1970-71 but were experiencing indifferent form towards the middle part of that decade.
It was not until 1978 that Brady had a legitimate shot at glory, losing the FA Cup final that year to Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town. That was the first in a sequence of three FA Cup finals contested by Arsenal. They won only the middle one, in 1979, the 'Brady final' as it came to be known; a 3-2 win against Manchester United. 'Chippy' was to the fore, setting up one goal and instigating the move which led to Alan Sunderland's winner.
The following season Brady led the Gunners to the Cup Winners' Cup final, which Arsenal would lose on penalties. He himself missed the decisive spot kick against Valencia, in Heysel, before moving willingly for around £500,000 to Serie A.
|LIAM BRADY PROFILE
|Caps, Goals: 72,9
Clubs: St Kevin's Boys, Home Farm, Arsenal 1971-80, Juventus 1980-82, Sampdoria 1982-84, Inter 1984-86, Ascoli 1986-87, West Ham United 1987-90
Honours: FA Cup 1978-79
Italian Serie A 1980-81, 1981-82
Upon hearing the referee's bell for the teams to assemble prior to his debut, a pre-season friendly at Brescia, Brady stood up and shook the hands of each one of his colleagues in the dressing room. That gesture is fondly recalled by Roberto Bettega.
His stint at Juventus was brief, yet hugely fruitful. He won two league titles and was the team's regista; the goalscorer and conjurer who made things happen with his left foot. Brady's range of passing, short or long, was unerring. His dribbling was efficient and graceful. A modern parallel in his style of play could perhaps be found in Mesut Ozil.
Alas, proceedings were brought to a swift and unhappy conclusion in Turin. Ireland's failure to qualify for the 1982 World Cup was disappointing enough in its own right but two star players from that tournament would make things a whole lot worse for 'Chippy'.
Three matches before the end of the 1981-82 season, the Juventus president, Giampiero Boniperti, informed Brady that the club would be signing the French playmaker Michel Platini and the Polish forward Zbigniew Boniek; thereby filling their first-team quota of foreign players for the following campaign. He was going to be squeezed out.
Brady's disappointment did not prevent him fulfilling the ultimate professional courtesy, however, slotting home the penalty on the last day of the season against Catanzaro to secure the Scudetto at the expense of Fiorentina.
He moved onto newly-promoted Sampdoria, before the glory days of Vujadin Boskov, and then Inter. He starred for two seasons at Giuseppe Meazza alongside Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, reaching the semi-finals of the 1984-85 Uefa Cup, before winding down his time on the peninsula with a stint at Ascoli. He returned to London with West Ham to see out his club playing days.
|"Brady, Boniek, Platini - we had one too many. If only we had been able to hold on to all three of them, we would have become one of the greatest teams of all time"
- Former Juventus president Giampiero Boniperti
During the run to World Cup 1990, Charlton insisted on direct football and packed the team with so-called 'granny rulers' like Ray Houghton and Andy Townsend. There was no place for Brady despite the vociferous, widespread calls for his inclusion. Worse still, Ireland's greatest player was to suffer an insulting end to his international days.
Brady was hooked by Charlton during the first half of a pre-World Cup friendly encounter against West Germany in Dublin. It was a demonstration of power by the manager and a message to the Irish people that he felt Brady was out of his depth. It was the end.
"It was disappointing for me. You sense when your time is up or when a manager favours you, or when a manager is supportive of you. It was a sad way to go," Brady told RTÉ Radio.
"Maybe with another manager, with another style of play, he would have wanted Liam Brady in the squad to go to Italy. But it wasn't to be. I knew my time was up. Having been substituted at Lansdowne Road against West Germany, I said: 'I've had enough. Good luck. Do well. And thanks for the memories.'"
What followed was an explosion of interest in the fortunes of the Ireland football team with qualification for USA 94 being secured shortly after. Brady would have no part in the subsequent wave of populism.
He deserved a better Arsenal team around him in his peak years at Highbury and the Ireland team which shone for the first time on the world stage deserved to have him in it. Brady's legacy in trophies is by no means rich but just ask a veteran Arsenal or Juventus fan about him.