Shay Given on the parallels between Newcastle United and Manchester City, his decision to leave the club – and his next move
Shay Given knew it was the right time to leave Newcastle United 12 years ago.
The club, Given felt, had “no ambition” in the early part of Mike Ashley’s time as owner. Given was right, as the over-riding ambition under Ashley was always Premier League survival – and there was never enough investment to take the club back up the division.
Now, Given feels it’s the right time to be a player at the club, which is now 80%-owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund following a £300million takeover last month.
The 45-year-old was back at St James’s Park last week to be inducted into the Newcastle United Foundation’s Hall of Fame by former team-mate Steve Harper, his long-time rival for a place between the posts.
Given, frustrated at the direction of the club under Ashey, reluctantly left United in January 2009 and signed for Manchester City, which had been taken over by Sheikh Mansour the previous year. Newcastle were relegated at the end of that campaign, while his new club went on to dominate the next decade.
The goalkeeper, on 462 United appearances, was just 34 games away from equalling the club’s all-time appearance record, held by Jimmy Lawrence, a goalkeeper who served Newcastle between 1904 and 1922.
Given believes the parallels between City then, and United now, are striking.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Given. “I loved my time here, nearly 12 years at the club. I left the club, because I felt it wasn’t going anywhere, it had no ambition, and I was joining Man City, a club similar to Newcastle now with the takeover.
“There’s talk of Newcastle around the world of football. It’s an exciting time to be attached to the club. I think the fans have hope again, and that’s all they want.”
Given played Champions League football with United, and the club’s new owners want the club to again compete for European football – and trophies. However, Howe’s immediate priority is keeping the winless club in the Premier League.
Reflecting on his time at the club, Given said: “Great memories. Playing in the Champions League. I think the biggest one was Barcelona here, we beat them in the Champions League. It was special. FA Cup semi-finals, UEFA Cup semi-final.
“Just really good memories. The fans used to go in their thousands to Milan, Barcelona or wherever it was. That’s a little bit of dreaming at the minute, that’s maybe a few years down the road.
“I’ve said when the takeover happened that this club deserves to be up there challenging again. You have to walk before you can run, but with the support of the new owners, and the wealth they have behind them, hopefully that will be the case.”
Given’s appearance at St James’s Park came hours after the appointment of Eddie Howe as the relegation-threatened club’s head coach was confirmed.
“That’s a big relief to everyone that it (Howe’s appointment) is done now,” said Given.
“The club, as a fanbase, staff and players, can really come together now. There was a breakdown with the previous owner and the fans, and it’s really important now that they focus and get behind the team, because the fans will be needed, for sure.”
Fans have long wanted a takeover, and more recently there had been calls for a managerial change following a winless start to the season under Steve Bruce, who left the club last month.
“It feels like a bit of a cloud has been lifted from the stadium (following the takeover), and hopefully with Eddie Howe and his staff coming in, they can get results and get away from trouble,” said Given.
“There are a hard few months ahead of us.
“I think Eddie’s a really good fit. It was refreshing to see some of his comments. He hasn’t gone away and put his feet up. He’s studied football, and gone to a few clubs around Europe and learnt from his time off. He’s an exciting manager.”
Given felt the “different atmosphere” at the club when he returned to St James’s Park for last month’s game against Tottenham Hotspur – and again for the Foundation’s annual dinner.
“It’s like London buses, I’ve not been for ages, then twice in three weeks,” said Given, whose sister and brother still live on Tyneside. “I was at the Tottenham game, and I’m delighted to back to be part of the Hall of Fame. It’s fantastic to be given that accolade. There are some great names before me.
“It (the recognition) is great. There’s a different atmosphere around the club now. I get excited driving up the A1 again. I was hear for the Tottenham game, and met some friends and had a few beers.
"It felt like home again. Twelve years of your life is a long time. I’ve got lots of friends and family up here.”
Given – who announced his retirement from football three years ago aged 42 – was on Derby County’s coaching staff until this summer.
And the former Republic of Ireland international’s ready for his next challenge.
“I’m out of work at the minute, doing a little bit of media work,” said Given. “Nothing major. My phone’s one, it’s not ringing too often. I spoke to my phone provider to see if was only taking outgoing calls!
"I don’t know. There are hopefully opportunities to come in the future. You just hope you get an opportunity to get back into the coaching side.”