Part 2 of the interview had Alan Looking back on some happy days and big occasions whilst playing for the Blades. All good things must come to an end and eventually the time came to leave Sheffield United.
You left United after playing under 6 managers. Is it hard adapting to different management styles, or as a keeper are you largely unaffected?
Whenever there is a change in manager at a football club. it is always an interesting and potentially unsettling time for any footballer because for those who are in the team you have to prove your worth all over again and for those whose face didn't fit , it is a clean slate and a chance to impress the new boss.
I have experienced this situation on over 17 occasions both as a player and a coach where each new manager has brought in his own ideas and style of play that the players and staff have to adjust to in a very short period of time. As a goalkeeper it is slightly different because the new boss generally looks at the rest of the team first!
What changed under Adrian Heath and what led you to leave Bramall Lane?
Aberdeen made a bid of £750,000 and it was accepted, I didn’t want to leave and I had a year left on my contract, but I was told I wasn’t going to get another. I spoke to the Aberdeen Chairman and told him I wouldn’t be moving to Scotland. Then Blackburn made a bid, which was also accepted, and it was made very clear to me that I had no future at Sheffield United.
I think Adrian Heath just wanted it all done and dusted and I was the least of his worries because Trace was staying. I can understand the situation because Simon was a top class goalkeeper, but it was a shame the way I was told because I was given very little time to say my goodbyes. However I did get to play in the pre-season friendly against Chelsea and it was great to play one last time in front of the Sheffield United faithful.
Were you at risk of leaving much earlier in your United career. Didn't Harry once drop you due to a contract dispute?
Harry being Harry….again! I had agreed the contract, Harry had the dispute. It took 7 games for him to get his head right and then it was all settled in an hour!
Whilst with United you gained full international recognition with the Republic of Ireland. What was Jack Charlton like as a manager/coach? Did he have any key advice before your Republic of Ireland debut?
I made my full debut away to the world champions, Germany, and when he named the team the night before the game he turned to me and said;
“Right son, it’s your responsibility to organise all your defensive set plays, so you sort out the markers, everything. If we concede from a set play, it’s your fault."
No pressure then Jack! When you think of the players I had to organise, Denis Irwin, Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge…..So there I am the night before my full debut, knocking on the players' doors and telling them where I wanted them on the pitch, Character building!
It was a happy debut too, we won 0-2 against Klinsmann, Koller and all.
After picking up so many Irish caps is it frustrating that you were on the side-lines for two World Cups?
I had a great career, with so many great highlights, to be part of two World Cup qualifying campaigns that resulted in qualification for the World Cup finals was brilliant. I get asked that question quite a lot and I genuinely believe that all I could do was my best and if I was picked then great. If I wasn’t, then I had to help the man in possession of the number one shirt. That was why Trace and I worked well at United, because we respected each other as goalies and helped the one who was playing, by training hard and with good quality.
I was lucky to be living, let alone playing, after being knocked over by that motorbike in 88 so I had a different outlook on life and football from other players and I could deal with the highs and lows in the same way.
How much were the players affected by the Keane/McCarthy Saipan incident in 2002? The results suggest it fired them up.
I don’t think I can type that fast and it is a subject that I have never spoken about publicly, but we had a great campaign and we should have beaten Spain to go through to the quarter finals. If Ian Harte had scored his penalty in normal time......we lost in a penalty shootout.
Do you consider yourself unfortunate to have been around with Packie Bonner and Shay Given in their prime, or just fortunate in that few players get the opportunity to win international caps?
I actually took over from Packie after the 1994 USA World Cup, after making my debut in 1993 and went on to win the majority of my caps under Jack Charlton. When Mick McCarthy took over I was having a few injury problems, Shay had made a massive entrance to football with Sunderland by winning promotion and Mick was blooding a lot of young players. Shay came in and played exceptionally well, so I had no problem with that as that is the nature of the game. He was and is to this day a world class goalkeeper.
In 1999/2000 season I played 9/10 games on the trot as Ireland lost out on qualifying for Euro 2000 by 9 seconds! But on a personal level I was awarded the International Player Of the Year Trophy ( the first time a goalkeeper had won it ) and as I was sat at the awards, I didn’t even give it a thought that I might be in contention as I was up against Roy Keane and Niall Quinn. So there I was still eating my dinner when the camera swings my way and it was announced I’d won! I looked up and thought, 'I am sure he just said my name?' My good friend and team mate, Alan McLoughlin, patted me on the back and said well done, so with a mouth full of steak off I went and got the award. Like I say, the ups and downs of football!
After leaving Bramall Lane Alan spent How did you find your 4 years at Ewood Park and was it injuries that led to your retirement?
I had nearly 5 years at Blackburn and in that time we won the Worthington Cup and gained promotion back to the Premier League. I only played 50 games, but that was due to the arrival of Brad Friedel, another world class goalkeeper and a great person.
Injury ended my career when I was teaching the young goalkeepers how to turn and react to save a shot. The young lad hit the ball a bit early and you can call it instinct, I just reacted. I threw out a hand and made the save, but my fingers dug into the turf and my body weight landed on top of them! My ring finger on my right hand was a mess and was hanging down the wrong side of my hand. I had surgery, but I couldn’t get the movement back and I nicknamed it the claw!
I had a wonderful time in football, played with and against some of the world’s great players. I started in a different era for football in the mid-80’s and witnessed the changing face of football through to the mid-noughties and I enjoyed every minute of it.
After a spell coaching with the Blackburn Academy, you were asked by Steve Staunton to work as a goalkeeping coach with the Irish national team. With Euro 2012 on the horizon, is this your first major championships in a coaching role and what are you looking forward to the most?
Yes, it’s my first championship as a coach. I have been lucky enough to work in International football for the last 6 years and working with a master of his art, Giovanni Trappatoni, has been amazing. I can’t wait to pit our wits against Croatia, Spain and Italy!
|Shay Given trains under the watchful eye of Alan|
Who would you rate as the best young keeper in the country at present?
Joe Hart is a fantastic goalkeeper, A great lad, who should be England’s number one for the next 10/15 years barring injury.
Talking of young talent, have you seen much of the two Georges at Bramall Lane (Long & Willis, both England age group internationals). If so, how would you rate them and where do they need to develop?
I have to be honest and say I haven’t, but I have heard good things about them. Darren Ward is the Academy goalkeeping coach at Sheffield United and in his hands the future of Sheffield’s goalkeepers are in good hands.
On that positive note for Blades fans, the interview ends. He believes the Blades keepers are in safe hands and I think it is safe to say that so are both Preston’s and the Republic of Ireland's men between the sticks.
I want to thanks Alan for taking the time to answer my questions. By his own admission it was great to reminisce and hopefully you have enjoyed reading these posts as much as Alan and I enjoyed putting this together. There was plenty we didn't cover, maybe next time. Thanks for reading.