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Jul 24, 2011

Given itching to get started

As the lavishly funded Manchester City blockbuster began production back in 2008, Shay Given was cast in a leading role of a plot line that seemed destined to end with him preparing acceptance speeches aplenty at prize giving ceremonies.

Given had it all back in the days when he was the first name inked onto City's increasingly star-studded roll call, with his sterling contributions on the field as eye-catching as his budging bank balance off it.

However, Given's path to glory was not to end in triumph, as by the time City ended their 35-year wait for a major trophy with FA Cup glory at Wembley last May, his status was that of a reserve goalkeeper charged with cheerleading from the sidelines as youngster Joe Hart stole the plaudits that once seemed destined to be his.

Conceding his appetite for the game waned as the months of inactivity lingered without any prospect of a first team return at City last season, Given admits his career may have fallen off the rails entirely were it not for his devotion to national service with Ireland and the prospect of a summer move, which came to fruition as he sealed a deal with Aston Villa last week.

"It got difficult in the final few months at City as whatever I did in the gym or on the training pitch, I knew I wasn't going to be playing the next match," reflects Given, as he offers an insight into life as highly paid reserve in Roberto Mancini's set-up.

"As my body has got older, I've started doing yoga and extra work on my fitness to keep myself in good shape, yet I got out of bed some mornings wondering why I was bothering last season when there is no chance of ever getting a game.

"The big Euro 2012 qualifiers on the horizon with Ireland kept me going as they gave me targets to aim at and kept my mind sharp, but I missed playing so badly and it gets to you in the end.

"I tried to get out on loan last January, but it didn't happen and while I still took part in the celebrations when the City lads won the FA Cup and qualified for the Champions League last May, I didn't really feel a part of it all. The FA Cup winner's medal I have at home means little to me because I didn't take part in the final and while I leave with no hard feelings towards the manager or City, I'm so relieved to get this fresh start at Villa."

Despite his veteran status at the age of 35, Given's enthusiasm to prove he still has what it takes to shine at the highest level burns brightly, with his eagerness to prove Manchester City boss Mancini wrong another motivating factor at the back of his mind.

"There is a small part of me that wants to show I'm still up to it at Premier League level, but that's not my chief motivation this season as I've really doubted my own ability," states Given, who boasts an impressive total of 113 caps at international level.

"In fact, I still believe my best years could be ahead of me. Look at Edwin van der Sar last season. He was fantastic for United and the same if true of the man I am replacing at Villa, Brad Freidel. They are examples of two guys who are in their 40s and still producing the goods in the Premier League, so hopefully I can make the most of the five-year contract I have here and I will look to try and carry on after that if at all possible.

"Playing a pre-season friendly at Walsall the other night was a thrill for me as I just want to have the feeling of being a No.1 again. It feels like a long time since I went into training with the prospect of playing a game the following Saturday and I like the sensation."

New Villa boss Alex McLeish sees Given as a key component in a defensive set-up that he hopes will provide the foundations for a team that will start the season on a mission to disperse the negative vibes hanging over the club created by the £35 million double sale of star wingers Stewart Downing and Ashley Young.

"Shay's arrival gives me a chance to put together three players who can become a famous Villa triangle in the coming years," states the manager whose move from Birmingham to Villa caused such a stir on the midlands football landscape last month.

"Richard Dunne had a few difficulties at Villa last season, but I'm sure he is delighted to get his old pal Shay behind him once again and alongside James Collins, we have a trio of highly experienced performers who can be crucial to what I want to do at this club.

"Sure, we have lost a couple of key players this summer, but I hope people look at Shay's arrival as a sign of what is to come as we are looking to bring quality players to the club and they don't come much better than this guy. For me, he has been one of the best goalkeepers in the game for many years and I'm delighted to get him here.

"I've heard nothing but good things about the standards Shay likes to keep in a dressing room and what he expects from those around him. I always liked to have senior professionals taking some responsibility in my dressing rooms and hopefully a character like Shay will be a great example to the younger players at this club.

"My first target is to bring a winning mentality at this club as I don't want any team to leave Villa Park saying that was an easy afternoon this season. Having people like Shay around the place can only help to build the kind of self believe I want to instil here."

New signings rarely offer a guarantee of success, yet Given is a rare exception and, if this is the quality of signing the McLeish era will herald, the Holt End faithful can dare to believe Villa's future is bright after all.

• Shay Given spoke to ESPNsoccernet at the launch of the new Aston Villa home kit, with principle partner Genting Casinos.

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