Short in stature, big on desire: Maloney returns to the radar

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The Independent Football

The young Celtic striker grew up in in Scotland's oil capital, but has an even richer background thanks to his father's own career. Mirri in Malaysia is where Shaun was born and spent the first four years of his life, before the family swapped the Asian heat for the chill North Sea air. The 22-year-old may be short on inches - at just 5ft 6in - but he is long on talent and desire. Maloney has overcome a cruciate ligament injury that stripped almost two seasons from his career to catch not only Walter Smith's eye, but also that of Gordon Strachan.

Both have fallen in love with Maloney. Whereas Berti Vogts was content to leave Maloney in the Under-21 side while he experimented with strikers from off the beaten track - come in Scott Dobie and Dougie Freedman - Smith has seen enough to know that he can no longer leave Maloney out of his plans.

Two years ago, Maloney scored the goal on a memorable success in Germany for Scotland's Under-21s, only to see Darren Fletcher promoted to the full squad and himself left to nurse a sense of injustice. He was soon nursing more than that. A dreadful tackle inflicted damage to his knee - the kid who had been given his debut at the age of 18 by Martin O'Neill against Rangers, and who appeared in the 2003 Uefa Cup final, suddenly found that misfortune can influence a young career as much as fame.

The long rehabilitation meant that Maloney was so far off the radar when Strachan took over at Parkhead in June that the striker was being linked with a move to Aberdeen. However, Maloney was so fuelled with hunger to impress that he not only forced Strachan to send the on-loan Arsenal forward, Jérémie Aliadière, back to London but also to accommodate Maloney in midfield because a flurry of goals as substitute indicated he was too precious to keep on the bench.

"I have been on the fringes for a while now," admitted Maloney. "I knew that this was the season, with the new manager coming in, for me to prove that I was able to come into this team and add something to it. Martin O'Neill showed a lot of confidence in me until I missed a year through injury, and towards the end of last season I was not really right.

"It has been good to start the last couple of games but I think you can only be judged over the course of a whole season. It does not worry me where I play, as long as the manager shows enough confidence in me to play me from the start, because we have such a good squad."

Strachan admitted that the attitude and impact of Maloney and his contemporary, Craig Beattie, were giving him selection problems, every time they stepped off the bench. The man who paid the price was John Hartson, who was dropped last week at Livingston. Now Beattie has two caps to his name and Maloney might just have one by the time the pair return to Scottish Premier League action on Saturday for the summit meeting with leaders Hearts.

"I am not sure I ever thought about leaving," Maloney told Celtic's club magazine, The Celtic View, when asked about a switch to Aberdeen. "After the injury, the little bonuses that come along make you feel the hard work was worth it. One of those was the national call-up."

Maloney offers a debt of gratitude to Rainer Bonhof, Scotland's Under-21 coach: "Last season, when I was lacking fitness, he stuck with me. He showed a lot of faith in me. That was what I needed. However, everyone wants to play at the highest level and I am no different. Alongside the Champions' League, playing in a World Cup tie for your country is the highest level. Walter Smith has come in and put a lot of confidence back. Scotland now go out to try and win games, and hopefully I can add something."

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