When Shaun Maloney was forced to retire this summer, aged just 34, he intended to pursue a career in coaching. What he did not anticipate was immediately being offered a prime position at his first senior club, one with the best record in the country for producing players for Celtic’s senior side, other Premiership clubs and, not least, the Scottish national team.
His elevation to the role of head coach for Celtic’s Under-20s came after a brief but vital conversation with manager Brendan Rodgers, pictured, whose values and philosophy clearly chime with Maloney’s own. Indeed, the former Scotland midfielder had intended to study the Irishman’s methods and help out without taking a wage, only to find himself installed on the Parkhead payroll within a matter of hours.
“You’re talking less than a week between knowing I was stopping and this job becoming available; I met Brendan on a Thursday and I started here on the Monday,” he said.
“The manager drove it and I know I’m really fortunate to be here because the way that the club is is perfect for a young coach to learn.
“When I started to think about not playing I was ready to go and shadow a manager or a coach at an academy. I’d have spent a month here and there trying to learn. Even without a job I was quite prepared to do that.
“When I met him it was for him to meet me and listen to my thoughts on the game and then he made a decision later that night.
“It wasn’t as if I had days; I was asked if I’d like it and I didn’t give it a second thought.”
Yet it could all have been very different. During the close season he had offers to continue playing, including an intriguing one from Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, who wanted him to become his playmaker at Pittodrie.
It says much for the honesty of Maloney that he informed the Dons of his doubts about his ability to make the contribution to their cause that he would have wanted due to his injuries, particularly when he could have kept his own counsel and signed on for another season. “I’d spoken to Aberdeen about playing for them and talked with Hull about continuing with them,” he said. “But I’d had surgery at the end of last season on a stomach issue and I was also aware there was a problem with one of my hips, which I had an operation on when I was 30.
“The other one was now also starting to deteriorate but I didn’t know to what extent so I had to tell Aberdeen about that problem. Then, when they did the scans they needed to do, they found out that the problem was bigger than I’d thought and that it would require more surgery.
“Consequently, there would have been a lengthy rehabilitation process and, at my age – and coming off another operation – I knew then that I had to stop playing. I’ve had a few injuries throughout my career and I thought it was the right point to stop playing and get out while I could still be active.”
Life, and not merely the footballing part of it, had been proving troublesome for some time for Maloney, which made his decision to call it a day much easier than it might have been.
“I’ve known for a couple of years that training was becoming difficult, what with post-training and things like that,” he said. “For me, the toughest bit was speaking to the clubs. Hull wasn’t too bad because they knew my medical history but Aberdeen is my home town and I would’ve liked to have gone back there.
“But I couldn’t have gone there and not told them and then sat there for a year or six months or however long it was, taking away a part of the squad that the manager is trying to build. Telling them there might be an issue was hard. But by the time we found out it was worse than I’d thought, my decision had been made.
“I spoke to the manager and the club doctor. My parents have had to pick me up after surgery and then stay with me for weeks afterwards and it’s getting to the stage where that’s getting more difficult for them.
“The idea of going through that again, only on a bigger scale, was unappealing. Also, from a personal point of view, you reach the stage where you know you’re never going to get back to a certain level.
“I haven’t had a single day where I’ve missed playing; the last couple of years have been pretty unenjoyable, in fact.”
l Shaun Maloney was speaking at the launch of Celtic’s October Skills Schools.