Keith Andrews is sitting in his club's education facility examining a Plasticine model of himself – and given the way his emotions have been stretched this way and that across the course of the past 12 months, it seems wholly appropriate for the current season of reflection.
Blackburn Rovers' Irish midfielder is the man many will remember for his tears on the Stade de France pitch at the end of 2009's most ignominious football match – more of that shortly – but he is also the player who was declared finished in the top flight a year ago, by those who are supposed to know about such things.
The death of the 29-year-old's Premier League career was foretold because most people believed he should not have been there in the first place. Paul Ince unexpectedly brought him up two leagues with him, from MK Dons, at the start of last season. And when Ince was sacked last December, the Dubliner's presence at Ewood Park was characterised as a symptom of the outgoing manager's poor judgement. To be stuck there, in the squad that Sam Allardyce inherited, was not an outcome for the faint-hearted.
"When Paul did get the sack it was a bad time," Andrews reflects at a modelling workshop run by Blackburn's Community Trust as part of the Premier League's Places for Players initiative. "When any manager goes, every player in the dressing room worries who it's going to be [taking over]. Will they like me? Am I going to get a chance? I wasn't as proven at this level as the vast majority of other people in the dressing room. It was a tough time."
Andrews had not been immune to the buffets of club football. He was something of a prodigy in his early days; Wolves' youngest captain for 100 years no less when, aged 21, he led Dave Jones' side against QPR in the last game of the 2000-1 season. Then things fell apart. Once as highly rated as his compatriot Robbie Keane, who began as a Wolves trainee on the same day, he slipped out of contention, was refused the transfer request he desired by Glenn Hoddle at Molineux and ultimately sought refuge at Hull City before Ince – his one-time Wolves team mate – resurrected his career, two leagues lower with the Dons.
Little wonder Andrews can live with the doubters who have – and some still do – question his place at Blackburn. "I had it from the moment I came here – the raised eyebrows," he says. "Your face doesn't always fit. If the new manager had released me I would have been prepared for that. I would have moved on. It wouldn't really have broken my heart in any way. There are not a lot of players who've come up from League Two to play in the Premier League consistently, week in week out." The only man whose opinion matters, of course, is Allardyce, whose regular selection of Andrews in the Rovers midfield means he is expected to make his 50th top-flight appearance for the club at Wigan this afternoon.
Andrews would like to be juggling the rest of it with thoughts of a World Cup finals with the Republic of Ireland next summer, though all that changed in the second it took Thierry Henry to score his notorious goal on the evening of Wednesday 18 November. "I just remember when it happened there was a few of us in a line," says Andrews, speaking about that evening for the first time. "I'd tracked the runner back into the box and was trying to anticipate if he was going to hit it first time across the box and trying to intercept it. But my first feeling was that it was handball and there were three of us put our hands up simultaneously. You can tell by players' reactions – that's what everybody tells you."
In the blur that followed, Andrews saw goalkeeper Shay Given reach the referee just before him. "We were just trying to tell him at first in a nice way, 'It's handball, you have to see it, ask your linesman.' The thing that made us unhappy was that he said: 'No, no, 100 per cent not handball.' Obviously he's been made to be a fool with that comment." Among those Andrews now questions is the Football Association of Ireland, for its belated attempt to secure a replay and become the 33rd team at South Africa this summer. "I don't even think there should have been us as a country asking for replays and for us to be added as an extra team. I think we should have just left it and let everybody resent the French, the referee and the whole of Fifa. We don't want anybody's sympathy. I certainly don't."
So he won't cast a glance at next summer's finals now. Next year's priorities rest in Lancashire, with January's Carling Cup semi-final tie with Aston Villa and a survival struggle. "We said at the start of the season that we had ambitions inside the club for where we wanted to finish – obviously higher than last season," he says. "So really that hasn't changed. We've managed to go on a decent cup run now as well which hopefully will bring us to the final. So yes, there's a lot to look forward to and the signs are positive." A year can change everything.Reuse content