Pre-seasons are not supposed to count for very much but this time last year, as Manchester City decamped to the eastern seaboard of the United States, Shay Given knew his time at the club was nearing its end.
A dislocated shoulder sustained at Arsenal ensured he did not finish the season, giving his understudy, Joe Hart, an opportunity he did not squander. Out in America, his manager, Roberto Mancini, who had described the Irishman as "one of the best five goalkeepers in the world", was making his preferences clear. For Given a kind of internal exile beckoned. The rules of football may change; there will be goal-line technology, there may be more than one referee, but there will never be two goalkeepers on the pitch.
"People are probably fed up with me using the word 'frustrating' but it was for me at Manchester City," said Given. "There is not very much you can do. The manager makes a decision and you have to respect it, take it on the chin. For me it's about playing football. You have one career and one life.
"Do you learn things about yourself? You learn you don't like sitting on the bench. That's the main thing. The reason you train hard and work in the gym is to get on the pitch. When the game's not there, that's the tough thing. It's like you [press] writing an article and then the newspaper turns round and says: 'Oh, we don't want it'."
His work for Macmillan Cancer Research – the disease claimed his mother when he was five – and two young children helped fill the time and, frankly, Given could have stayed at Eastlands, taken the money and waited – waited for Hart to fail or be injured, waited for Mancini to be sacked. But he is not that type, which is why this day he is wearing Aston Villa's colours, coaching kids in Kowloon.
"I'd just turned 35 in April and leaving Manchester City, who are going to be a big club in world football, was a big decision," he said. "But I had to be playing regularly.
"Manchester City will do big things. They have fantastic owners, who are bringing in some of the best players in the world, so I think it is inevitable they will do big things like winning the Premier League and the European Cup, if not next year then in the years to come. It is just a matter of time."
Quite what the future holds for Villa is more difficult to say. Like Newcastle, where Given spent the bulk of his career, they have history, support and an impressive stadium – but little money. Given was Alex McLeish's first signing and Charles N'Zogbia his second; there may not be a third.
Given's close season has gone on internationals for Ireland, coaching badges and the move. Now there is the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy with Chelsea tomorrow. Given recalls the last time he took part against Chelsea during his Newcastle years. "Jermaine Jenas chipped a penalty down the middle of the goal in a shoot-out. It missed and Sir Bobby Robson was going absolutely bonkers on the sidelines. He wanted to kill him."Reuse content