Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Why can't darling of the Kop Paddy McCourt make grade at club level?

Golden night: Paddy McCourt celebrates his brace against the Faroes in August 2011

He's got a swagger that gets fans off their seats and skills that simply take your breath away. Pretty much every goal he has ever scored has been Goal of the Season material and YouTube is full of clips of his stunning finishes – one in particular has over 250,000 hits.

One manager once described him as 'undroppable' but sadly that is what most bosses have done to the enigma that is Paddy McCourt.

And now, less than three years after he gave one of the most memorable individual displays by any Northern Ireland player at Windsor Park, McCourt is searching for a new club after being released by Barnsley following their relegation from the Championship.

In August 2011, the man dubbed the 'Derry Pele' blew the Faroe Islands away with a virtuoso display.

His first goal was good, a curling finish after a neat one-two, but his second was better.

After picking up the ball 10 yards inside the Faroe's half, McCourt weaved past two defenders before beating the goalkeeper with a beautiful chip.

The then Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington seemed certain to put his faith in McCourt for the rest of the World Cup campaign, but come the next game he was injured and the fans were denied more magic.

And that has been the tale of a stop-start career since McCourt's undoubted talents took him back to full-time football six years ago with Scottish giants Celtic.

After moving to Parkhead from hometown club Derry City, where he'd rediscovered his hunger for the game after a short spell at Shamrock Rovers followed his release from Rochdale, it was expected that it would take time for him to adjust and get up to speed with the Scottish game.

When he did get into the team the Celtic fans just couldn't get enough of him as he jinked past defenders and scored some stunning goals.

In five years with the Bhoys he only managed to play 66 league games, most of those coming as a substitute, with injuries cited as the main reason.

If that was the issue then why, with all the work that goes into strength and conditioning at football clubs these days, were Celtic unable to get Paddy fit to make an impact?

The real problem is the failure of British managers to be able to integrate players with McCourt's supreme individual talent into a team network.

'Where do you play him?' is one question I've heard on numerous occasions.

The short answer is that if the manager is doing his job then he should know where to play him.

Yes, Paddy is unpredictable – you wonder even sometimes if he himself knows what's coming next – but that is what our international team has been crying out for for years.

On these shores there is a fear to utilise players with outstanding individual skills. Hard workers are the preference, but few, if any, pay in to watch the 'give it sideways' type midfielders.

Paddy's problem is that he hasn't found a manager yet who is willing to say 'you go and play and let the others do the fetching and carrying'.

At just over 30-years-old, McCourt should be at the peak of his career. Instead, he is now wondering where and when his next game will be.

All is not lost though.

It seems that Barnsley were unable to keep McCourt on the wage bill because their budget would be slashed in League One, with 14 players leaving the club.

It seems that there are clubs in England and Scotland who want to sign him and that, along with the fact that Derry City manager Roddy Collins has ruled out signing the player, are reasons to be thankful.

He's far too talented to return to Ireland when there is a chance to play elsewhere.

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