FOUR years ago Ryan McGivern starred in the Manchester City side which defeated Chelsea in the final of the FA Youth Cup, another step on the way to realising his dream of pulling on a light blue shirt in the English Premiership. Or so he thought.
But since then he’s looked on in amazement as the English Premier League outfit has been transformed out of all recognition under owner Sheikh Mansour, a man with an estimated individual bank balance of at least £17 billion and a family fortune of more than $1 trillion.
A member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, he immediately set aside a staggering £500 million to be spent on attracting some of the world’s biggest stars to the Etihad Stadium, a move which saw McGivern rub shoulders with the likes of Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Sergio Aguerro to name but a few.
But the success such wealth brought – a first English top-flight title in 44 years – came at a cost for 22-year-old McGivern, the arrival of each multi-million pound signing lessening his chances of forcing his way into boss Roberto Mancini’s plans.
The upshot has been something of a nomadic life for the Northern Ireland internationalist, the loan agreement he signed to bring him to Hibs being the sixth such deal following spells with Morecambe, Leicester City, Walsall, Crystal Palace, and Bristol City as he’s sought first-team football.
He said: “For the club and the fans it’s been what everyone wants, to win trophies and in that respect it has been a good thing. If the takeover hadn’t taken place there might have been more chances for young players like me but, there again, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to train with the players I worked with day in, day out and that’s something I am grateful for.
“As a young player it was exciting. I don’t think you could be frightened of them, everyone is human after all. They are terrific players and you have to go and enjoy yourself, try to learn from them and pick up as much as you can whether it’s playing against them or with them in training or just watching.”
Prior to the intervention of Sheikh Mansour, City boasted one of the most prolific youth academies in England but from the team which lifted the FA Youth Cup in 2008 only McGivern and Dedryk Boyata remain and he, too, currently finds himself on loan, in his case with Dutch side FC Twente.
McGivern said: “It’s a frightening thought, but the position the club are in they have the power to bring in whoever they want. If it’s a choice between giving a young lad a chance or spending £25m on a world class superstar you know what they will do.
“Ideally every player wants to come through the youth set-up and establish themselves in the first team but chances have been limited with the money that’s been made available to the manager.”
Now in the final year of his contract with City, McGivern knows the situation is unlikely to change between now and next summer but he has taken a pragmatic approach, accepting that over the course of the next few months he could well be putting himself in the shop window as far as clinching a permanent deal elsewhere is concerned.
He is, however, determined to push any such thoughts to the back of his mind as he sets about making the most of a stay in Edinburgh which runs, at least initially, until mid-January. The Newry-born player said: “I’ve had a few loan deals but I have met a lot of good people at the clubs I have been at, it’s been a good experience, I’ve learned an awful lot and, again, I’m grateful for that.
“I had a couple of clubs down south interested in me but when I knew Hibs were knocking on the door this was something that excited me. I’ve played in every league in England so this is a chance to experience a new league and perhaps a different style of football. It was something that appealed to me.”
McGivern revealed it was Pat Fenlon’s persistence which finally paid off, the Hibs boss having begun his pursuit of the defender a while back although at that point the player wanted to wait and see the lie of the land at City.
He said: “I wanted to get a couple of weeks training under my belt to see what was going to happen at City but as it came close to deadline day nothing was really happening. Then I heard Pat Fenlon had been in touch again asking if I would be interested in coming on loan. He seems to have done a great job over the summer, there’s been a lot of changes made at the club.
“From speaking to the boys Hibs had quite a large squad last season but this time it’s a lot thinner in numbers but the quality is still there, if not better and you can see that out on the pitch with the results, the club second in the table, the team playing well and a great spirit in the camp for which you have to give the manager credit.”
McGivern’s loan deal was completed on transfer deadline day but he had to wait almost a full fortnight before joining his new team-mates as he met up with Northern Ireland as they began their World Cup campaign with matches against Russia and Luxembourg. Those days, though, were also spent talking all things Hibs with former Easter Road stars Michael O’Neill, now his international boss, and Dean Shiels.
Capped 18 times for his country, McGivern said: “Both Dean and the manager told me this is a great club, a great city and that I will enjoy it up here. I know Dean was something of a cult hero with the fans and everything he said about the club was really good, that the supporters were fantastic, that the set-up with the training ground and stadium was terrific which was good to hear.
“Michael O’Neill still lives in Edinburgh and he told me he gets along to Easter Road when he can. I love playing for my country and the fact he can come to check on me any time he wants can only be good for my international career.”
Having rubbed shoulders with the multi-millionaires of Manchester City, McGivern found himself sharing the bench with a trio of 18-year-olds in Ross Caldwell, Sam Stanton and Danny Handling, as he watched Hibs stretch their unbeaten SPL run to five matches with victory over Kilmarnock and, being well aware of the club’s reputation for homegrown talent, he’s more than appreciative of the opportunities which youngsters such as them will get.
He said: “There’s lot of players who started their career here, the likes of Steven Fletcher,
Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Garry O’Connor, Steven Whittaker and Derek Riordan and others who arrived as youngsters and also kicked on like Dean (Shiels) and David Murphy. So it is encouraging to see that is still happening.
“It’s the way forward, not every club has millions of pounds to spend. The manager has a lot of belief in the youngsters. At City the Academy was one of the most successful in England but the numbers have dropped off as the manager has the money and resources to bring in whoever he wants.
“That’s not the situation here, the way forward is to give young players the chance and from what I have seen Hibs have some very good youngsters who will, I am sure, go on to do well for Hibs.”
However, like Caldwell, Stanton and Handling, McGivern finds himself fighting for a first-team place, anxious to make the most of his few months in the Capital but also well aware that as long as the team prospers Fenlon is likely to retain faith in those who have done so well thus far.
“I am itching to play. Every player wants to be involved in every game but before I arrived the boys were on a good run and they’ve continued it so I have to be patient. I’m here until mid-January and I’m not looking any further forward. I’ll be concentrating first of all in getting into the team and then making sure I keep my place, playing as many games as I can and hopefully helping the club continue this good run of form, helping keep them at the right end of the table and hopefully challenging for honours.”