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Football | Robbie Brady enters crucial period for club and country

David Smith discusses why the next 12 months will be a crucial period for Robbie Brady at both club and international level, following news that the Republic of Ireland midfielder has agreed a one-year contract extension at Burnley.

“With some players, it’s difficult to know why, for example, someone like Robbie Brady, three years ago was probably our most creative player, and now at times he hasn’t got into the (matchday) 22. How has that happened? Stephen Kenny

Robbie Brady has extended his contract at Burnley until the end of the 2020/21 season.

The Clarets have triggered an optional one-year extension on the Republic of Ireland international's current deal, which was due to expire at the end of this season.

Brady joined Sean Dyche's side from Norwich in January 2017 for a then club-record fee of £13m, six months after starring for the Boys in Green at Euro 2016.

The 28-year-old made an instant impact on his Premier League debut, scoring a stunning free kick against Chelsea, and has gone on to make a total of 63 appearances for the club.

Brady made 14 league appearances in his first half-season at the club, scoring one goal, but has been consistently hampered by injuries since his move to Turf Moor.

The Dubliner made a blistering start to the 2017/18 with the Clarets, appearing in in all 15 of Dyche's men's opening 15 league games, before suffering a serious knee injury against Leicester City which kept him sidelined for 10 months.

LATEST: Brady Extends Turf Moor Stay — Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) May 21, 2020

A combination of injuries and the rise of talented young winger Dwight McNeil have limited Brady's progress at the club since then, with the former Manchester Unite and Hull City winger reduced to 16 league appearances - 10 of which came off the bench - last season.

He has started just six matches for Burnley this season, all of which have ended in defeat.

He has only managed 395 minutes on the pitch in the English top flight this season, with a troublesome rib injury restricting his availability for selection.

However, the former St Kevin's Boys youth has shown glimpses of his undoubted talent when given the opportunity this season.

Brady set up both goals in Burnley's 4-2 home defeat to Chelsea in October, providing assists for both Jay Rodriguez and McNeil.

In December, he ended his two-year Premier League goal drought with a well-taken consolation goal - set up by international teammate jeff Hendrick - in the Clarets' 4-1 defeat to Manchester City.

Having recently recovered from injury, he has now returned to Burnley training this week as the Premier League looks to make a return amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Dyche is hoping that the break will work in Brady's favour moving forward.

“He’s had a bit of a tough time with injuries, unfortunately,” Dyche told the club website.

“Hopefully, this break will give him another chance to get another block of fitness in to be ready for when this starts again.

“In the meantime, we have taken an option on him because we thought it was the right thing to do for now and for going forwards for next season.”

REACTION: The boss speaks on Brady contract extension — Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) May 21, 2020

Burnley are 10th in the Premier League on 39 points after 30 matches, just one point behind Arsenal (who have a game in hand), two behind Spurs, and just five off Manchester United in fifth.

Brady's contract extension gives him another 12 months to prove his injury woes are behind him, and to win back his place in Burnley's starting eleven. His ability and versatility make him an important squad player for the Clarets when fit, but he faces a battle to break back into Dyche's first-choice midfield.

For context, defensive duo Ben Mee (2610) and James Tarkowski (2610) are the only players to play more minutes than Brady's left-wing competition McNeil (2529) this season. McNeil has also provided five assists in the 2019/20 campaign, a feat matched only by central midfielder Ashley Westwood.

However, Brady's flexibility, which allows him to feature at left back, anywhere across the midfield, or behind the striker, will surely enhance his opportunities when the season resumes.

Throw in his capabilities from set pieces, and a fit Brady will be back in contention for the Clarets in no time.

As with his club form, serious and recurring injuries have played a large part in Brady's recent lack of primacy with Ireland. Brady now also needs to resurrect an international career which looked in danger of petering out.

His eye-catching performances for Ireland at Euro 2016 - including his famous winner against Italy in Lille to send the Boys in Green through to the knockout stages - saw him win the country's goal of the season accolade for 2016/17, as well as being named as both Ireland’s Player and Young Player of the Year.

He last represented Ireland in a 3-1 win over New Zealand in an international friendly at the Aviva last November, captaining the team and providing an assist for Derrick Williams from a corner, before watching Mick McCarthy's men's heartbreaking draw with Denmark from the bench at the same venue a few days later.

A month earlier, Brady had suffered the chastening blow of being left out of McCarthy's squad for the October double-header against Georgia and Switzerland.

As new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny pointed out at his unveiling, the intermittent period has seen Brady go from Ireland's most creative player to someone who has been omitted from matchday squads.

Brady has won 46 caps in total at senior level, scoring eight times, including crucial goals against Italy and France at Euro 2016.

Kenny will be tasked with getting the best out of the Dubliner once again in a green jersey.

The former Dundalk manager's style should be well-suited to a player of Brady's ilk, with the increased emphasis on possession and attacking football likely to benefit the Burnley man.

While Kenny is likely to carve out a key role for Brady in his new-look Ireland team, Brady will also have to cement his position with some strong performances.

With a slew of talented young midfielders coming through the ranks, many of whom are extremely familiar to Kenny, there will be an abundance of competitiom for starting places in midfield.

All in all, things are looking up for Brady after a difficult 18 months for club and country.

His club manager has shown enough faith in him to extend his contract (notably, five other Burnley players who are running out of contract have yet to be tied down), and his new international manager has already spoken about getting the best out of the 28-year-old.

Now in his late twenties, Brady should be entering his peak.

If he can stay fit, Burnley and Ireland fans still have plenty to look forward to.

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