Halford Having His Eyes Opened
Reading`s Greg readied for his long walk to glory
Blink and you might have missed it. Reading`s record signing, former Colchester player, Greg Halford, actually emerged competitively for his Premiership debut recently, albeit as a sixty-second sub. His new boss Steve Coppell is certainly making sure that the 22-year-old says levelheaded, one appearance - and two months - after his arrival at Madejski.
Quite right too, if you apply the obvious logic arguing that the canyon separating Championship and Premier division football is just as wide on both the playing and personality fronts.
England`s highest league tows the party-line of adapt or die, but the Royals have given their future surplanter a good chance of surviving, offering him a normally sparse growth-agent: time.
Reading`s decision not to throw Greg in at the deep end has given him time to adjust as both a player and a person - to become more whole. That is a necessary evolution, which must occur before his induction into the school of Premiership pinball at England`s house of hard-knock s can be complete.
To quote Coppell, speaking the day before he appeared briefly against Portsmouth: "I'm sure Greg is desperate to make his debut but when he signed I said he wasn't a 14-game signing, he was a three or four-year prospect. We defend in a certain way and it is hard just to drop in there.
"You need to do the groundwork to become part of the group and he is obviously getting very close to that point. He was bought to play, not sit on the sidelines but sometimes you have got to be patient."
Bang goes a convenient conspiracy theory that he had swapped a starting-place at Untied for relative glory. When considering that the £2.5 million Essex Boy has not yet decided what his best position is - and that he had probably never left his home in Britain`s oldest recorded town for any length, until now - the act of diplomacy looks sound.
The difference in lifestyles at the clubs will have been marked. Colchester is such a small place that a friend-of-a-friend reliably stated how Halford would not be joining Sheffield United last January, (despite later insistence that he had received "a big offer") before the news had even broken in the papers.
His new side`s willingness to wait before unwrapping their most expensive present since the £1 million purchase of Leroy Lita reflects a shift in sporting beliefs; one that emphasises the need to equip the average athlete`s lethal artillery with a healthy mind, as well as body.
Not only that; it marks the morphing of those modern microphone jockeys in the media as a band of righteous crusaders, because when Halford swapped life in Colchester for London, he not only became Reading`s most expensive player in their history, but also public property.
If Greg were to make a monumental slip-up so soon into his top-flight career, he would be at the mercy of the notoriously pious British press, whose job to make allowances it certainly is not.
As an outside bet for England`s Euro 2008 squad, he will need to lay fairly low in the limelight and dodge those ever-sharp quills. This, while also making it his duty to seek out that round thing that fashions his living.
It`s all easier said than done, of course, since the plausibility of him gaining international recognition will fluctuate with Reading`s performance in the Premiership. People like former boss Phil Parkinson, who has a Social Science degree, wouldn`t back against Greg hitting the big-time.
One judgement by the man responsible for engineering Halford`s early elevation from youth-team captain to first-team regular - even backed by a doctorate - is not enough to counterbalance other general, and more damming, evidence. Too much, too young has become a tragically abiding theme that often sees an overwhelming train of raw talent pulled straight off football`s rails.
Liverpool`s Jamie Carragher - who recently revealed that he had risked retirement at 26 due to a drinks habit - and Chelsea`s John Terry, are among those whom we might file as recidivists. Far too many others, though, have walked fame`s tightrope and fallen off. Perhaps we should be unsurprised that so many fit young men - on gargantuan salaries - find it impossible to tell their friends apart from the fakes.
Optimists would point out that, in Greg`s case, he has already represented the England Under-20s in Italy - playing as a striker in 2005, and scoring once - without trouble. He was also part of a Colchester side this season that has the best disciplinary record in the Championship, which suggests that the light of a thousand flashbulbs tends not to have an adverse affect on him at his place of work.
It is worth remembering, though, his comments in a daily diary on the icons.com website, where he frequently stated his desire to descend the flat lands of East Anglia before departing the scene.
Moaning in cyber-space is a little unbecoming, although his comments hinted at the insular life lived by many a modern footballer. In answer to a question asking Greg what he felt he could never have enough of, he replied: "People you can count on, true friends."
Not to portray Halford as the latest to enrol on football`s list of poor little rich boys, because Reading have taken a leaf out of the Colchester book when handling his recent development.
After demanding a transfer back in August, he was asked to bid his time, and subsequently produced some of his greatest displays in stripes, before flying the Colchester nest - his forty-yard screamer against Sheffield Wednesday even made the shortlist for Goal of the Year, at the recent Football League Awards.
In the short-term, he may have lost out by trading potential glory for actual playing appearances out on the field, but will be a long-term winner.
Halford now waits desperately in the wings, for a chance to spread them on stage, and is as lean and hungry as ever. When Greg, another of youth`s birds, is finally liberated, the hope is that he will go on to succeed, and score a rare moral victory for sport, in the process.