When Alessandro Del Piero lifted the Serie A trophy at the end of the 2011/12 campaign, a Peninsula wide debate was sparked; should Juventus have two or three stars sewed onto their shirt next season? Despite disagreements about the number of stars Juventus should or shouldn’t have, one of those stars will forever belong to one man… Liam Brady.
Born in Dublin’s fair city on February 13 1956, Liam Brady began his football career at youth level for his local club and FAI Cup maestros, Home Farm. After a short spell he was snapped up by Arsenal in 1970 and began a rapid ascent from wonderkid, to Arsenal legend.
He turned professional in 1973 on his 17th birthday and in October of the same year; the then Arsenal manager, Bertie Mee, gave the Irish youngster his debut against Birmingham City. Although a 17 year old Brady only made 13 appearances in his maiden campaign; he was taught valuable lessons from his midfield mentor, Alan Ball.
Although Bertie Mee and Alan Ball were great influences on Brady’s budding career, when they both left north London, he blossomed into Arsenal’s midfield maestro. During Terry Neil’s tenure as manager, it became evidently clear that Liam Brady was by no means, your run of the mill Irish footballer.
The Emerald Isle was never known for elegant footballers, those who would prefer to have the ball at their feet rather than their opponents head. Normally, Irish footballers would be former Gaelic players who weren’t cut out for the GAA but still wanted to play a contact ball sport; Liam Brady was not a part of this bland genre. He glided instead of trudging, he passed instead of hoofing; he was cappuccino whilst his compatriots were tea. This continental style, which would go on to serve him well during the eighties, was self taught; Liam Brady was a natural born world shaker.
Brady brought Arsenal from the brink of relegation in 1973, to three successive FA Cup finals between 1978 and 1980. He formed a deadly partnership with Frank Stapelton and Malcom Macdonald who benefited greatly from the Irishman’s through balls and wondrous set pieces. An Irish version of ‘Total Football’ was brought to Highbury and although no silverware was won in the first six years of Brady’s Arsenal career; in 1979 he provided the FA Cup for the Arsenal faithful in a special manner.
In Wembley, he single handedly tore the Manchester United defence to pieces. With a signature jinking run, he got to the edge of the box and set up Brian Talbot for the first goal with a perfect cross. The famous last gasp winner scored by Alan Sunderland, was also created by a famous Liam Brady dribble. He was named PFA Player of the Year in the same year; the year that Arsenal fans argue was his finest.
Although his Arsenal side seemed to be on the verge of a dynasty, Brady felt 1980 had to be the final year he would spend in London for him to realize his true potential. The highlight of his final season was a famous 2-1 aggregate win over Juventus, the club he would sign for at the end of the season.
Liam Brady became Juventus’ first foreign star after the calcio frontiers opened once again in 1980. Burdened with the famous number ten once worn by Giampiero Boniperti and a hefty £500 000 fee, the Irishman had a lot of high expectations to meet. Liam Brady recalled for RTE, “when the plane landed [in Turin], there was a mass of black and white. [The] Juventus supporters were waiting for me to arrive; it was something I didn’t expect.”
His vision, close control, tactical nous and most importantly his masterful left foot; meant that he and calcio were a match made in heaven. Juventus already had world class stars in the shape of Bettega, Scirea and Zoff, but they were missing a trequartista that could take them to the next level; Brady was that player.
Before his debut in a friendly against Brescia, the Irishman’s class was exhibited when he made it his business to shake hands with all of his team mates and opponents. Even before a ball was kicked in anger, Brady’s team mates respected him.
Adjusting to life in Italy and the Serie A, was by no means as difficult as it should have been for the Irishman. He didn’t speak a word of Italian and in a time without internet and satellite television, he had a sparse knowledge of the Italian game; but none of this mattered. Brady had a wiliness to learn, a wiliness to succeed in a league regarded as the best in the world; the willing man is always an able man.
Ireland’s finest quickly became the talk of the terraces around the Peninsula. He made the world’s greatest defenders look like amateurs, the world’s greatest goalkeepers like school children, and himself like the second coming of Boniperti. One match in particular during his first calcio campaign, allowed Brady to steal the hearts of every Juventini in Italy. A man of the match display against bitter rivals Inter Milan in which he created one goal and score another, was enough to convince the Bianconeri faithful that the Irishman was the player they were all waiting for, a true champion.
The 1980/81 Serie A title race was one of the closest in calcio’s history. Paulo Roberto Falcao’s AS Roma were favourites alongside Inter but by match day twenty, Juventus and SSC Napoli were both within a point of league leaders Roma. A seismic shift in momentum however occurred on March 22, when Juventus were able to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat against Perugia. Brady cooly slotted a pressure spot kick past the keeper with only minutes remaining. A last minute Marocchino winner was enough to give La Vecchia Signora a valuable three points; Liam Brady’s decisive penalty was to be mirrored in the following campaign.
An unbeaten run in the final two months was enough to clinch the Serie A title and finish two points ahead of nearest rivals, Roma. With eight goals and countless assists, Brady was undoubtedly the architect of the Scudetto win which was incidentally, the Dublin born midfielder’s first ever championship as a professional.
Giovanni Trapattoni, the Juventus manager whilst Brady was at the club, spoke highly of the Irishman, “there is no doubt about it, he played a really decisive role” Trap said. “We might have had seven or eight players who were in the Italian squad but it was Brady, who brought experience and personality to the side, and his role in midfield was vital.”
The 1981/82 season was a significant one in the history of Juventus football club; they were chasing a second yellow star that would be symbolic of their twentieth title victory. There were new challengers in the shape of Giancarlo Di Sisti’s Fiorentina, who were able to make the Serie A title race, the closest it has ever been. During this season, Liam Brady would shine brighter than anyone thought he ever could.
His velvet feet and footballing brain, allowed Liam Brady to control the pace of every game he played in 1981/82. However, before the third last game of the season, the then Juventus president Giampiero Boniperti called Brady to his door and told him that he would be offloaded at the end of the season.
Regulations at the time only allowed each club t0 own just two foreign players. Juventus had Polish striker, Zbigniew Boniek and for the next campaign the board had opted to sign Michel Platini to partner the hulking forward instead of Brady. The ‘betrayal’ left him heartbroken and left many Juventini in the same state.
On May 16 1982, Ireland’s greatest calcio export played his final game for the club that he had held so dear to his heart. It was a game of immense significance, Juventus were locked level on points with the nouveau riche Fiorentina; La Vecchia Signora had to better Fiorentina’s result. With fifteen minutes remaining Juve were awarded a penalty kick; step forward Liam Brady.
As Liam Brady stood over the ball alone in the penalty area, the improbable circumstances that led him to this foreign land, this penalty, this final game for Juventus, would have made a mere mortal crumble; but not Brady. With his silken left foot he slotted the ball cooly into the left corner and eternal glory was his.
For calcio lovers, Brady had shown a professionalism that has rarely been seen again. After Juventus ‘betrayed’ him, no one felt he needed to score the penalty and a lesser man would not have. But that was Brady, he wasn’t ordinary, he was a player who never subjected himself to the norm. The Irishman simply did what he thought was right rather than what suited him best, something that his Catholic upbringing in Dublin had taught him.
The second star was Liam Brady’s final gift to the residence of Turin. He signed for newly promoted Sampdoria in the following summer along with Trevor Francis as Samp built for a strong first campaign back in the top flight.
Given the coveted number 10 shirt once again at an Italian club, he and his new team mates gelled quickly and beat Juventus, Roma and Inter Milan in their first three games. Brady’s experience at the highest level and other worldly footballing abilities, made him the hero of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris; Irish tri-colours were adopted by the Sampdoria faithful and Brady’s name was sung like a mantra.
Although the Irishman was outstanding for Sampdoria, they failed to finish higher than 6th place during his time there. After a two year stint he signed for Inter Milan in the summer of 1984. He played a starring role alongside German legend, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium. Brady was unable to win any major competitions with Inter Milan, but he managed to reach the 1984/85 UEFA Cup semi-final.
His final calcio adventure was at relegation threatened Ascoli, owned by the egotistical Constantino Rozzi whom Brady had a less than friendly relationship with. After a year of bickering about wages, the Irishman felt it was time to go back to England; he signed for West Ham United in 1987 for £100 000, then hung up his boots after three years in Upton Park.
Like many Irish football fans, the first time I set eyes on Liam Brady, I could not believe he was Irish. His grace, class and professionalism were always three characteristics never found in an Irish footballer; but these were Brady’s virtues. Liam Brady was built for a land he wasn’t born in, built for calcio… built for greatness.
Follow Jack Gallagher on Twitter: @calciolovesjack