Last Monday was "strange" in the life of Andy Reid. Such a word does not come close to the cacophony of emotions the young Dubliner felt. But he struggles for diplomacy among the detritus of Nottingham Forest's season.
In the morning, one of his mentors, Paul Hart, came in to bid farewell after his fraught departure as manager. "He said if anyone needed to talk to him, they knew where he was... I thought that was pretty admirable," Reid says.
In the afternoon he was named by Brian Kerr, his other mentor, in the Republic of Ireland's squad for this week's attention-grabbing match against the world champions, Brazil - Ronaldo and all. "I knew the squad was being announced but it was a difficult day," he says. Reid's call-up followed his man-of-the-match debut last autumn, when his late substitution triggered a standing ovation which was all the more memorable as he had 30 members of his family watching. This is a young man who grew up 15 minutes from Lansdowne Road, and who stood on the terraces as the World Cup heroes of 1990 returned home to fire his desire. "Playing for Ireland means the world to me," Reid says. And you believe him.
Part of that world for so long has been Hart and Kerr. Both have known Reid since he was 14. Both have had a profound effect on this most gifted of attackers, who has been continually hailed as the best outside the Premiership.
But if any Forest fan doubts his commitment, fear not. The club's woes are eating him up. "Football affects my life," he says. "If things aren't going well on the pitch then generally they're not going well off it. It affects my moods and how I am. Some people aren't like that but a lot has happened over the last couple of weeks. We are in a very bad position in the League, so I just look forward to getting out on to the pitch and trying to put that right. If we win we can laugh and joke as much as we want. But I care about the club and I care about my future. And my future isn't going to plan if we're down at the bottom."
He is clearly, visibly pre-occupied. "It's not nice. It's never nice when someone loses their job, especially someone you know so well and have a lot of respect for. But I am a professional footballer and I have got to be professional," Reid says determinedly. "That's the way it is, hopefully it will give everyone a lift." The new man is, of course, Joe Kinnear who took his first training session on Thursday with Reid, his most luminous asset, nursing a dead leg.
The left-winger is known as having a keen sense of humour. That has been shelved, although it peeks out occasionally, because of Forest's plight - in the First Division relegation battle ("a disaster"), without a win in 14 League matches and £17m in debt. "We have got injuries but we have also let some of our best players leave," he says. Reid was a target, Tottenham Hotspur offering £5m for him and Michael Dawson, with Rohan Ricketts going in the other direction. The offer was refused. For now. Reid alone is valued at £6m. Others will come calling. "I was even more determined to play well during all the speculation as I did not want to be accused of my heart not being in it," he says. "I would like to think that I am mentally strong. You have to be."
And you have to be to leave home at 14, after his Junior Certificate, to move away from your parents and four brothers and come to England, where Hart was his first youth-team coach. "I was in digs, just backing on to the ground," Reid says, pointing in their direction. "I was there for three years."
He scored on his debut at 18 - "In football you grow up quickly. One day you're playing against boys, the next it's men" - and the club are now a part of him. "As soon as I walked in I had a certain feeling about it," he says. "And my feelings have only grown stronger since then."
Despite his reviews, Reid is hard on himself. "I am not running away with it, it's only the start," he says. "I need to remember what got me where I am."
Today he will be back home, in Dublin, with his international team-mates to prepare for the arrival of a full-strength Brazil. "These guys don't just turn up to warm the bench, so it's a chance for us to pit ourselves against the best team in the world," Reid says. "And that's what you have to aim for - to be the best you can." Despite their failure to qualify for Euro 2004, these are exciting times for the Irish, with tiros such as Reid, Liam Miller and John O'Shea, who all played for Kerr and were European champions with him at Under-16 level.
"It can be quite daunting being with the senior squad," Reid says. "As these are people you watch on the television and who you supported in the World Cup. And the next thing you are playing with them." Familiar faces help. He doesn't know with whom he will room. "Last time I turned up and went to reception and they said, 'Oh, yes you're in with Damien Duff', I couldn't believe it," says Reid. "He had just moved to Chelsea for £17m - but he was brilliant. Really great."
There are similarities between the two players - not least that they started their careers with the Dublin boys' team Lourdes Celtic. Reid will clearly also follow Duff elsewhere. "I want to play in the Premiership," he says. "That's my ambition. Unfortunately at the moment it's not going to be with Forest." But he can keep them in the First Division.Reuse content