Former Juve Liam Brady turned 50 last week. An Irish newspaper published a big piece on him.
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ASK yourself where you were on 6 September 1989. When Liam Brady was substituted after little more than a half hour against West Germany. When Lansdowne Road stopped for a few seconds to absorb the significance. When two opposites of the Irish game collided.
For devotees of elegance, perception and skill, it was as if someone had pointed out a rare flower to Jack Charlton, and he had crushed it underfoot. If Charlton hadn't already been embraced both by the national team's supporters who had travelled wide-eyed to the previous year's European Championship finals, and by a largely benign media, his decision would have been tantamount to heresy.
Because this wasn't just another player walking the lonely walk. This was Liam Brady. A legend at Arsenal when he was in his early 20s, a playmaker who masterminded two Serie A titles when Juventus were the best team in the best league in the world, a beam of light when Ireland were all too often in the dark, a cerebral midfielder who once scored the winning goal against Brazil. When Brady put his left foot on the ball and glanced up, it was as if time stood still.
There were harsh words in the dressing room at half-time.
He told Charlton in no uncertain terms what he thought of him, and Frank Stapleton had to intervene in an effort to defuse the situation, "Hold on, hold on, there's a game to be played here."
Stapleton was right, and the game continued as it inevitably does, but for Brady it was over, and he immediately announced his international retirement. His nemesis would inherit Ireland's new football kingdom.
Tomorrow, Brady, his family and some close friends, will gather at an Italian restaurant near his home in Brighton to mark his 50th birthday. When you're as steeped in the game as he is, and when you run Arsenal's youth development programme, there is no escape from talk of football. But take it that the conversation will also range over his passions for national hunt racing . . . he's one of the owners of Cerium who goes in next month's Arkle Chase at Cheltenham . . . and for golf. Take it as well that Jack Charlton won't be on the agenda.
"No, he won't. Look, if Jack wanted me out of the way, and if he stage-managed the situation by subbing me against West Germany, then it was diabolical. But that's in the past, and anyway, it's important to remember that I played some of my best football for Ireland under Jack. I admired him as a manager, he was decisive, he had a plan, he could handle pressure.
"Admittedly, there was no chemistry between us, and his style of football was completely alien to the way I believe the game should be played. But, no, I don't blame Jack for what he did, because that's just the way he is. I'm not sure he showed anyone any respect, but he got results that hadn't been achieved before. The players were desperate to get to major finals, and he led them."
Looking at Brady now, less intense than the slight, but commanding, figure who could fillet a defence with one stroke of that left foot, and much less intense than the gaunt manager who prowled the touchline at Celtic Park, it's hard to figure him for a rebel. Yet he reminds you that he walked out on Arsenal after just six months.
He had crossed a line with one of the coaches who then kept him back a couple of evenings a week from six to eight o'clock to clean the dressing rooms. So he came home that Christmas in 1971 and vowed not to return. "It wasn't as if I'd been sent back to Dublin because they had doubts over my ability. I'd kind of rebelled against the regime, rebelled against the excessive discipline by this one guy."
Like David O'Leary and Stapleton, and the other Arsenal kids with their dreams, he was homesick, but unlike the other kids, his football education was already more sophisticated.
His great uncle Frank had played for Ireland in the 1920s, his older brothers Pat and Ray were with Millwall and QPR respectively, while another brother Frank played for Shamrock Rovers.
The day before Ray lined out for Ireland against Austria in a European Nations Cup game, he brought Charlie Hurley up to the family home on Glenshesk Road in Whitehall. "It caused a major buzz around the place, all the kids were there knocking on the door. I was about seven or eight, I was awestruck, and that's when I really remember becoming obsessed with the whole thing.
Later, I used to play every Saturday for St Kevin's Boys and then go to watch League of Ireland on a Sunday.
"I was good, and I knew I was good, well, because you just know you are. I was confident, I had the whole thing mapped out in my head. I'd be in the first team at Arsenal when I was 18, and then I'd play for Ireland. Very confident, no doubts about myself."
Later, Ray Treacy would remember looking at the teenager on the morning of his international debut against the Soviet Union in 1974 and thinking that he had lost his bottle. "I was nervous alright, but I think they were good nerves, " Brady says. "I could sense a great belief in John Giles among the players. He'd changed the mindset when he got the manager's job, the inferiority complex had gone. We crucified them. We were aggressive . . . guys like Don Givens and Treacy, not me obviously . . . and we played some great football as well.
They kicked off, the ball came back to John and he passed it straight to me as if to say, 'Go on then, don't be frightened.'
And I wasn't."
That combination of confidence and a rebellious streak served him well as he became the leader of Arsenal's young orchestra. It helped him to acclimatise and then flourish in the demanding arena of the Italian game, and it surfaced again when Charlton grabbed the international team by the scruff of the neck.
During the qualifying campaign for the 1988 European finals, Charlton was trying to impose himself, to build a new side in his image, and Brady quickly sensed he was being picked reluctantly. "He couldn't leave me out because I was playing well, but I probably didn't do myself any favours. I accepted that I had to go along with what he wanted for the most part, yet I didn't toe the line completely. I might pass the ball near the edge of the box and he'd be shouting 'Get the ball up the effing pitch', and I'd pretend I didn't hear. It was that bit of rebellion that wouldn't allow me do it totally his way."
He elbowed a Bulgarian player in the 2-0 win at Lansdowne Road and was sent off.
That appeared to be that.
Brady was 32, Bulgaria would do what they had to do to reach the finals in their last game against Scotland, and Ireland would be out.
On the day of the BulgariaScotland match he was playing golf with Pat Jennings at South Herts outside London, and when they got back to the clubhouse, the barman had this strange look on his face. "You won't believe it, Scotland won 1-0. You're going to the European Championships."
Before anything else, he had to get on to the FAI about the four-match ban he had been handed by Uefa following the sending-off. He was told not to worry, an appeal was being sorted out, but he still contacted Giampiero Boniperti, the Juventus chairman, as well as the shipping magnate and owner of Sampdoria, Paolo Mantovani, to see if they could pull a few strings within Uefa.
Later, he travelled to Zurich for the appeal hearing with an FAI delegation which included the association's president at the time, Pat O'Brien, as well as Des Casey. "Pat was a lovely man, but he had a really strong Cork accent and in all honesty, I'd trouble understanding him, " Brady remembers. "Anyway, we go into this room with several Uefa officials from different countries and there were booths at the back of the room for the translators. Pat opens up our appeal and I wasn't too sure what he was saying, and I could see the translators shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders.
"I'm worried obviously, but Des tells me everything's going to be fine. So then, Des is on his feet and he's really doing his best for me. 'Liam Brady has been a great player for Ireland, he's waited so long to get to this stage. What you have to appreciate is that Liam Brady is to Ireland what Michel Platini is to France, and what Diego Maradona is to Brazil.'
Now I'm laughing to myself and thinking, 'I've got no chance here'."
As it happened, the FAI got the best result in the circumstances and Brady's suspension was reduced to two games, but then a cruciate ligament injury cost him the chance of playing in a firstever finals tournament after 14 years. He limped through Germany, revelling in the team's performances, and probably had the most difficult job of all when Charlton asked him to get the players to bed after the 1-0 win over England in Stuttgart.
His work as a TV commentator at Italia '90 was a prelude to a sideline which has seen him become one of RTE's most prized analysts alongside Eamon Dunphy and Giles.
"Eamon acts in haste and never repents at leisure, " he says, "but it's rarely boring when he's around."
After the 0-0 draw against Egypt in Palermo when Ireland performed poorly and when no one appeared to have a clue how to break down the Egyptian defence, Charlton approached Brady in the team hotel where he was a having a beer with some of the players.
"Could've done with you tonight, " he said. A few minutes later, he was back at the table. "Only when you were at your best, mind." That was Charlton. He would say something generous, and then once he realised it might have seemed like a sign of weakness, he had to qualify it.
For a year I had lived with the possibility of Liam Brady's transfer to another club in the same way that, in the late '50s and early '60s, American teenagers had lived with the possibility of the impending Apocalypse. I knew it would happen, yet, even so, I allowed myself to hope f I had never felt so intensely about an Arsenal player: for five years he was the focus of the team.
Liam Brady was one of the best two or three passers of the last 20 years, and this in itself was why he was revered by every single Arsenal fan.
Nick Hornby, 'Fever Pitch' Brady, Stapleton, O'Leary and Graham Rix were the backbone of the Arsenal side of the late 1970s. Three FA Cup finals in a row, and one, sandwiched in the middle, a neverto-be-forgotten 3-2 win over Manchester United. A Cup Winners' Cup final as well, but no European silverware as Valencia came through after a penalty shoot-out.
Rix's failure in the lottery of sudden-death is probably remembered more vividly, but Brady's earlier miss haunted him for a while. "I'd wake up in a cold sweat thinking about why I didn't put it in the other corner. People talk to me now about a certain game I played in, or a certain goal I scored, and I've no memory of it. But I've never forgotten that penalty."
He was Giles's natural successor as the brains of the international team, he had won the English PFA's Player of the Year award in 1979, and he was Arsenal's linchpin, but he was restless. If Arsenal finished in the top six of the league, if they made it into Europe or if they reached a cup final, the board was happy enough. At the time, his ambition was far greater than the club's.
Manchester United were an option and he and Dave Sexton talked terms over a private lunch at the Burlington Hotel where a nervous waiter had to be sworn to secrecy about the meeting. However, Italy had re-opened their borders to foreign players and eventually Juventus's advances proved to be the most alluring.
This was the Juventus which would boast Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea, Antonio Cabrini, Marco Tardelli, Paolo Rossi and Roberto Bettega during Brady's two seasons in Turin.
A multi-talented group of players which dominated Serie A before driving Italy to World Cup success in 1982.
Initially, he sensed a doubt among the club's directors.
"Our first league game in the 1980-81 season was in Cagliari in September and it was boiling hot and I couldn't raise a gallop. But by this time I'd picked up some of the language and one of the directors was getting on the bus and asking how Inter Milan, who were the reigning champions, had done.
They'd won 4-0 and Inter had signed the Austrian Herbert Prohaska and I think he might have scored. So I heard the guy say, 'We made a mistake with our foreigner'. I remembered that when he was putting his arm around me at the end of the season after we'd won the championship."
Juventus managed to compensate for Rossi's suspension following a match-fixing scandal, but when Bettega had injury problems during Brady's second year, they were not as potent in front of goal. However, under their outstanding coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, another league title was in sight.
Then out of the blue, Brady got a call from Dennis Roach, an agent he knew in England, who said he might be able to help him get fixed up. "Fixed up about what, Dennis?", Brady asked him. "Don't you know?
Platini's in and you're out."
He couldn't quite take it in.
Couldn't believe it. He sounded Trapattoni out after training, and while the coach denied any knowledge of Michel Platini's arrival, Brady knew he knew. He then talked to Bettega and reckoned he knew as well, before the chairman Boniperti made it official.
"I realised then it was the owner Gianni Agnelli's call, and what Agnelli wants, Agnelli gets. To be fair, he wasn't a bad judge, but it was a crushing blow at the time, and I did feel somewhat betrayed after playing so well. I realise I was replaced by someone who went on to become arguably the best player in the world, but I'd played against Platini in the 1978 and the '82 World Cup qualifying campaigns and he'd come out on top largely because of refereeing decisions. So, at the time I didn't feel inferior to him."
He could have pouted, but instead he managed to turn a bad situation around. There were three games remaining in the league and Brady played superbly before scoring a penalty in the last match against Catanzaro which gave Juventus the title by a point.
"Since then I have this reputation among people who follow football closely in Italy as the ultimate pro. I didn't deserve it, but I got it."
Now he and his wife Sarah had a decision to make. To return to England or to stay?
As a couple they had settled well in Italy, and as a player, he had proved himself. In the end, Sampdoria with its billionaire owner, Paolo Mantovani, and his ambitions for the Genoese club, turned his head.
ater in that summer of 1982, after a shambolic Ireland tour which included defeats to Brazil and the mighty Trinidad and Tobago, Brady sat in Gibney's pub in Malahide and watched Italy, with his former Juventus teammates, defeat West Germany in the World Cup final.
"It was bittersweet. I was really delighted for the lads at Juventus, but that was it, I was moving on, I wouldn't be playing with them any more. I stayed in Italy because I was in probably the most competitive league in the world at the time, and I reckon I was earning 10 times what I'd been earning at Arsenal. Italy set me up financially for life. I've no problem saying I didn't go there just for the challenge."
Two years in Genoa were followed by another two at Inter Milan alongside KarlHeinz Rummenigge, Alessandro Altobelli, Giuseppe Bergomi, Fulvio Collovati and Walter Zenga. There was more pressure, more expectation than at Sampdoria, but there was always the rush of performing in the San Siro. "Our coach, Ilario Castagner, wasn't strong enough, he wasn't up to it, and we blew the title in my first year. Trapattoni came to Inter later and if he'd been there that season, we would have walked it."
After Inter, he moved to Ascoli and then finally to West Ham. A day after shaking hands with the then West Ham manager, John Lyall, Celtic made him an offer, but he stuck to his deal with Lyall. Glasgow would come calling again.
In 1991 after being told he had the manager's job at Celtic, he was watching the early evening news on the BBC with Sarah, and one of the items was about his appointment.
"It was the bloody news, not the sports news, and Sarah looked at me as if to say, 'Sure you know what you're doing here?'" There was an infamous 5-1 defeat by Neuchatel Xamax in the Uefa Cup, but by the end of the first season, which had included a long unbeaten run, he felt he had justified his position. Off the pitch, Celtic were in debt, the board was riven by warring factions, and matters quickly came to a head with the chief executive, Terry Cassidy, who during a meeting once handed Brady a slip of paper with a team written on it.
"As far as I was concerned, this guy knew nothing about football, so I got up and walked out. For a while it was him or me, but the board managed to gloss over it. Still, there was a distinct atmosphere between Cassidy and myself, and between me and some of the directors as well, so I knew I had to get it really right on the pitch, or else I was going to be in trouble."
His signings included Tony Cascarino from Aston Villa, Stuart Slater from West Ham and Andy Payton from Middlesbrough, but all three failed to break Rangers' dominance.
"No, I didn't buy well, and you live and die by your purchases as well as your results in the eyes of the fans. I genuinely believed I had the knowledge, so it was a rude awakening. I was too inexperienced to handle it, but Celtic turned out to be a manager's graveyard for several who followed me.
"Glasgow is a demanding, aggressive city, and although I didn't achieve what I'd hoped to, I've no regrets about that particular period of my career.
To have managed a winning team in an Old Firm derby is something no one ever forgets."
He resigned from Celtic, threw himself into Brighton for a couple of years, but it too was a club in turmoil, then in early 1996 after Charlton had gone, the FAI's Louis Kilcoyne rang to sound him out about the Ireland job. "Louis was wondering why I hadn't applied and I was telling him that I didn't think I had a chance. He said the FAI wanted to consider me, so I agreed to go for an interview as long as the whole thing was discreet and confidential."
Brady drove into the car park of a Heathrow hotel just before the appointed time to be greeted by a media scrum, and as he walked into the foyer, Joe Kinnear was walking out.
"It was laughable, a complete shambles, a beauty contest for the guys in the blazers, but I decided I'd go in and see what was going on. It later emerged that Kevin Moran was lined up for the job, but a couple of people jumped ship at the last moment and went with Mick McCarthy. That's the FAI for you."
He probably would do the Ireland job if he was offered it, but it's definitely not an ambition. Right now, he's more concerned with producing a few young players who, like Ashley Cole, are talented enough to emerge from Arsenal's youth programme into the glare of the world game.
If you sat with him over a couple of glasses of red wine tomorrow evening, he'd tell that of all the players he played with, Alan Ball, Stapleton and O'Leary stood out at Arsenal, Scirea and Rummenigge were superb in Italy, while Giles and Paul McGrath were also special. Of the coaches? "Don Howe, Giles and Trapattoni, that's it. They'd no favourites, no allegiances, they relied on knowledge and motivation, and their passion for the game got through to players."
He's thinking ahead to how Cerium will run at the Cheltenham festival, and to the Ryder Cup at the K Club.
That's what made him different from so many other good players . . . always thinking about what he was doing.
Some relied on instinct alone, with Brady there had to be a reason.
After Charlton had called him ashore, West Germany's manager that day, Franz Beckenbauer, offered his verdict:
"I've always admired Liam, he's my type of player. But perhaps Jackie thinks differently."
Charlton obviously did think differently, but you still get the feeling that Beckenbauer was right.