Thursday, 12 July 2012

Liam Brady


1980 - 1982 :  Juventus (Italy)
1982 - 1984 :  Sampdoria (Italy)
1984 - 1986 :  Internazionale (Italy)
1986 - 1987 :  Ascoli (Italy)

Born 13 February 1956 in Dublin, this man is regarded as Ireland's most technically gifted footballer of all time. An elegant midfielder, his 17 year career earned him 72 caps for his country and won him 2 league titles, a cup and various personal accolades. His natural ball-skills and supreme passing ability mark him out as unique among other Irish players, and the country has arguably never since produced a footballer like Liam Brady.

Brady's story began in Dublin where he played for St. Kevin's Boys as a youngster. He moved to North London to join English giants Arsenal in 1971 at the tender age of 15. He was part of a talented and highly regarded Arsenal youth side who would win the Southern Counties League and the Youth FA Cup. His senior debut came in 1973 against Birmingham, and Brady never looked back.

The Arsenal side of the 1970s was a strong side, and featured a host of other Irishmen playing alongside Brady, including Pat Rice, David O'Leary, Pat Jennings and Frank Stapleton. While at Arsenal, Brady became a club legend. He played over 300 games for the Gunners, netting over 50 goals including a screamer against Tottenham in 1978. In 1979 Arsenal won the FA Cup, and Brady was named PFA Player of the Year (the first ever non-British player to do so).

Despite the growing sense of success and strength of this Arsenal side, Brady decided in the summer of 1980 to move on to a new challenge. The previous season, Arsenal had beaten Italian side Juventus in the European Cup Winners' Cup 2-1, and Brady had impressed with his performances. So it was, that summer, Juventus paid 500,000 pounds to sign the Irishman. Brady would become the third Irishman to play in Serie A and the second to play for Juventus after Matthew Kunding 70 years earlier. 

Juventus were Italy's most successful club, having already won the Scudetto 18 times since 1905. However, they had lost out on the title for the previous two season, and the signing of Brady was meant to change that.

Brady with Juventus
He arrived at Juventus amid some fanfare at Turin airport. Orchestrating games from the midfield, he became the lynch-pin of all of Juventus' attacking play, linking well with Italian internationals Roberto Bettega and Marco Tardelli. Managed by the legendary Giovanni Trapattoni, they clinched the Serie A title in style and Brady was top scorer for Juventus in his maiden season in Italy. In Europe however, Juventus had less  joy. After a shaky first-round aggregate win over Greek side Panathinaikos in the UEFA Cup, they were put out in Round 3 by Polish outfit Widzew Lodz on penalties.

The following season would see Juventus compete in the European Champion's Cup with similar failures. After overcoming Scottish champions Celtic in Round 1, they were dumped out of the competition by Belgian side Anderlecht 4-2 on aggregate. Domestically however, Juventus succeeded in defending their crown. This 1982 Scudetto was a particularly proud one for Brady. Three matches before the season's end, with Juventus still battling Fiorentina for the title, Brady was told that he would be moved on in the summer, to accommodate the arrival of French ace Michel Platini. At the time, Italian clubs could only have two foreigners in their roster, therefore, in order to bring in Platini, Juventus had decided to discard Brady (Zbigniew Boniek being the other foreigner kept by the club). Yet, amidst all this, it came down to a penultimate game penalty against lowly Catanzaro for Juventus to clinch the title. The spot-kick was taken by Brady himself, and converted with ease. Brady had thus led Juve to the title, in spite of knowing he would not be there the next Autumn. Brady has described Juventus' decision to let him go as devastating. Giampiero Boniperti, then President of Juventus also lent a lament, stating "Brady, Boniek, Platini - we had one too many. If only we had been able to hold on to all three of them, we would have become one of the greatest teams of all time".

Rather than return to Britain, as  many Irishmen had and have done, Brady stayed on in Italy. He signed for recently promoted sleeping-giants Sampdoria. 

Founded in 1946 as a merger between a handful of local sides, Sampdoria had endured a shaky existence and by the 1970s, found themselves in Serie B. However, in 1979 the club were bought by tycoon Paolo Mantovani, who invested heavily, bringing them back into the Serie A in 1982. Money was spent on bringing in the likes of Brady, Trevor Francis and manager Renzo Ulivieri.

Brady with Trevor Francis at Sampdroria
Brady would link up with English striker Francis, another new signing, at the club, a man he had played against frequently back in England. Brady's playmaking and Francis' goals helped them to a respectable 7th place finish in his first season. The 1983-84 season would see Sampdoria clinch 6th place, with Brady proving an irreplaceable squad member. The next summer, he transferred again, this time to Milan giants, and perennial under-achievers Internazionale. 

Internazionale or Inter Milan, were founded in 1908 by Italian and Swiss members of the Milan Cricket Club. They won their first Serie A title in 1910 and would go on to win the Scudetto on 12 occasions by the time Brady arrived. He joined Beppe Baresi, Guiseppe Bergomi and German legend Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at the San Siro. In his first year with the Nerazzurri, Brady & co. finished the Serie A in 3rd, five points behind winners Hellas Verona. One sweetener for Brady was Inter finishing two points ahead of his former club Juventus, in part thanks to a 4-0 drubbing handed to the Old Lady at home.

In Europe Inter saw off Sportul Studentesc and Glasgow Rangers to reach the Third Round of the 1984-85 UEFA Cup. After losing 2-1 away to Hamburg in the first leg, Inter Milan beat the German side 1-0 at home, thanks to a penalty by Brady, sending them to the Quarter-Finals where they dismantled FC Koln. In the Semi-Finals, another Brady penalty wasn't enough for Inter to beat eventual champions Real Madrid.

By now he had become a main-stay of the Serie A and a respected and well-known figure in Italian football. He had settled well, having learned the language and enjoyed the lifestyle. His Ireland career was also in full swing, and Brady had become his country's captain.
Brady with Inter Milan

The 1985-86 season would see Inter finish in 6th again, and Brady, now 30 moved on, to his final destination in Italy. He signed on for the 1986-87 season with newly promoted Ascoli. A small club from Marche in central Italy, Ascoli play their home matches at the 20,000 capacity Stadio Cino e Lillo Del Duca. Prior to Brady's arrival, Ascoli's greatest achievements had been two Serie B titles in 1978 and 1986.

This was the season of the famous all-conquering Napoli of Diego Maradonna. Brady's lowly Ascoli would finish the campaign in 12th, clear of relegation. It was while with Ascoli that Brady scored his most famous goal for Ireland in a 1987 friendly win over Brazil at Lansdowne Road. 

Brady's time in Italy had come to an end however, and Brady returned to London for 100,000 pounds, signing for West Ham United. He would spend three seasons with the Hammers scoring 10 goals in just over 100 appearances. His final game was a 4-0 thumping of Wolverhampton Wanderers, in which Brady scored his last senior career goal.

Brady would briefly go into management, first with Celtic and then with Brighton & Hove Albion, but neither stint was successful. He then became a Youth Team Coach with his old side Arsenal, helping to develop the young talent that would go on to feature prominently in the Premier League era. He has also created a stable career, as a respected television pundit in his home country with RTE Sport, working alongside former Irish internationals Eamon Dunphy and John Giles.
Brady was capped 72 times for the Republic of Ireland

Brady is the blue-print for success for any Irish or British footballer aspiring to make it on the continent. In a colourful and respected seven year stay in Italy, Brady won two Championships and became regarded as one of the finest in midfielders in Europe, and is still regarded today across the continent as one of the finest of his generation. It was unfortunate that he never managed to represent his country at a major international tournament, but such failures were beyond his control. Brady's modesty, sensibility and good nature allowed him to adapt quickly to life in Italy and learn its language and its customs.  For that reason Brady is often regarded as one of the finest British/Irish exports to Europe in the history of modern football.

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