For more than 10 years now Shay Given has been established as one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League. The Irishman became a club legend in his long association with Newcastle United before going on to join the Manchester City revolution in January 2009. In terms of attributes Given meets the criteria of the top goalkeepers in the world. He has razor-sharp reflexes, solid handling, good distribution, the ability to put strikers under pressure in one-on-one situations and a commanding presence behind the defence. Another of Given’s strengths has been his consistency down the years with no real slumps in his form.
Given began his playing career with his boyhood club Celtic, which he joined as a teenager from his native Ireland. After failing to make an appearance for the first team at Celtic he was signed by then Blackburn Rovers manager Kenny Dalglish in 1994. Given’s time in Lancashire was spent mainly as an understudy to the first choice goalkeeper Tim Flowers – although he did enjoy successful loan spells at Swindon Town and Sunderland. It was in his spell at Sunderland where Given first made a name for himself, keeping 12 clean sheets in only 17 games as the Black Cats won promotion to the Premiership. He was reunited with Dalglish in the summer of 1997, The Scot making Given one of his first signings as Newcastle United manager. It says something of Given’s early talent that a respected manager such as Kenny Dalglish signed him on two separate occasions.
Given immediately established himself as the Magpies No 1, beating off competition from more experienced ‘keepers such as Pavel Srnicek and Shaka Hislop. This was an impressive achievement as Given was only 21 at the time and few goalkeepers make a breakthrough to first team level at that age. Given’s reward for a good first season was a place in the 1998 FA Cup final team but he was powerless to prevent an Arsenal victory. Given lost his first team spot for much of the 1999/00 season and handed in a transfer request to express his frustration. Fortunately for Newcastle it was rejected and from that moment Given never looked back as he became a key part of Newcastle’s revival under Sir Bobby Robson. Given was an ever-present in the league for three consecutive seasons and enjoyed a season of Champions League football in 2002/03 season. One of the keys to Given’s success, along with being a superb shot stopper, was the lack of errors he made. Every mistake made by a goalkeeper counts and, with the exception of a cheeky goal by Dion Dublin, it is hard to remember a major error made by Given. Along with a host of personal awards, the popular Irishman also received recognition from his peers by twice being named in the PFA Team of the Season. Behind an often-poor defence, Given regularly had to be on top form and must have won countless points for Newcastle over the seasons.
One of the highlights of Given’s career was when he represented his country, the Republic of Ireland, at the 2002 World Cup. Given made a number of top saves as they qualified from the group stages and were then defeated by Spain on penalties in the knockout stages. Since making his Ireland debut in 1996, Given has won 100 caps for his country, making him the joint-highest capped player in Ireland’s history.
Under the Mike Ashley regime at Newcastle Given’s patience was wearing thin. He produced one of his finest displays for the club in their 5-1 hammering by Liverpool in December 2008. It would not be an understatement to say that without Given in goal Liverpool would have reached double figures as he single-handedly kept Liverpool at bay.
The riches of Manchester City came calling in the January transfer window and with Given desperate to leave for his own sanity a deal was reached. A sum of around £5m represented an absolute steal for City and should prove to be one of the best bits of business Mark Hughes will ever do. Given quickly established himself as the No 1 at Eastlands with some solid displays behind a leaky defence. This season he has also performed competently with a Man of the Match display against Birmingham providing a perfect example of Given’s talents. At the age of 33 he still has at least five years left at the highest level, and a major trophy would be a fitting accolade to one of the finest goalkeepers the Premier League has ever seen.
Name – Shay Given
Age – 33 (April 20, 1976)
Position – Goalkeeper
Club level honours – Division One championship (1995/96) – Intertoto Cup (2006)
Nationality – Irish
Caps/goals – 100 (0)
National honours – None