Shay Given is, to followers of the English Premier League, one of the world's elite goalkeepers. This sentiment is, however, largely exclusive to those inside the borders of Britain and Ireland.
It is a consequence of exposure rather than endeavour. For while the 33-year-old's razor-sharp reflexes and resolute command of his area have provoked his regular spectators into juxtaposing him with the game's other hallowed No1s, the Republic of Ireland international has not showcased his talent in a major international tournament or the UEFA Champions League since 2002 and 2003 respectively.
Given is determined to arrest these statistics, and he has ample reason for optimism. Indeed, Manchester City's threat to break the monopoly Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have held on the Premier League's top-four places is being delivered in an augmenting, clangorous tone, while Giovanni Trapattoni's Boys in Green are just one step - albeit a steep one built from French concrete - away from reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Ahead of his country's imminent play-off, FIFA.com spoke to the former Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United player about the merits of Les Bleus, Republic of Ireland's chances of qualification, life at Eastlands and City's aspirations for the future.
FIFA.com: Shay, how does it feel to be part of a Manchester City squad with such ambition?
Shay Given: It's a great period to be at Manchester City. There's such excitement in the dressing room. There's a real feeling of optimism and we believe we're going places. It's been a great adventure for me and I couldn't be happier.
City have had some legendary goalkeepers over the years, such as Frank Swift, Bert Trautmann and Joe Corrigan. How does it feel to be a successor to such greats?
Manchester City are a great club with a great history. It's true they've had some excellent keepers, so it's really special to be following in their footsteps. It's a hard act to follow but it's certainly an honour.
There's such excitement in the dressing room. There's a real feeling of optimism and we believe we're going places.
What are the club's targets this season?
We'd like to win something. If it doesn't happen this season, it'll happen next. But hopefully we'll be able to do it (this campaign). We're in the Carling Cup quarter-finals, we've got the FA Cup to come and we're up near the top of the league.
Do you believe City can win the 2009/10 Premier League?
I'd like to think so. If we win our game in hand we'll only be a couple of points behind Manchester United [the Red Devils are third, five points behind leaders Chelsea]. We need to keep going and winning away games, which will be crucial. We have a fantastic team and a strong squad, but it will be tough because there are some great sides in this league. Manchester United and Chelsea will be the teams to beat. They also have experience of challenging for the title - they've both been there and done it. But we believe in ourselves. It's a long winter and a long, hard season - there'll be a lot of twists and turns between now and the end of the season.
City are not involved in Europe this season. Will that be a big advantage to the club's title challenge?
I think so. We'll be able to keep players fresh, especially during the second half of the season. Obviously we'd prefer to be playing in the Champions League though.
Where do you envisage City being in two years' time? Will they be champions of Europe?
I don't have a crystal ball, but I hope we can be one of the best sides in Europe. It will be difficult but we have fantastic owners, passionate supporters and a number of excellent players. We've got a lot of potential but we've got to keep working hard.
Do you envisage finishing your career at City, or would you like to play for any other clubs before you hang up your gloves?
I'd love to finish my career here. I haven't been here long, but I already feel at home and love the club. I grew up a Celtic supporter and they have a big place in my heart, but I really hope I can finish my career here. You can never say never, but I'd like to think I will.
Where do you feel you rank among the world's best goalkeepers? Who do you consider the best player in your position?
It's not for me to say where I rank. I just work hard and always try to improve. In terms of the world's best keepers, I think it's very hard to pick just one. I think there are a few on about the same level. Casillas, Buffon, Van der Sar, Cech... I'd say they're the cream of the crop.
Moving on to the Republic of Ireland, what did you make of your qualification campaign?
I think second place was a good achievement. We were in a group with the world champions and a good Bulgaria side. We went unbeaten and gave the Italians two very close games that we could have won - we showed we can compete against the world's top sides. We would have taken a play-off place before a ball was kicked, so we've got to be happy.
How did you feel when you drew France?
We knew it was going to be tough, no matter who we drew. Some people would say that France are the best team in the play-offs, but we're just focusing on going out there and playing our own game.
Do you think the absence of Franck Ribery will be a big advantage?
Yeah, he's a top player. But his replacement will be another quality player - France simply don't have weak players.
What do you think are France's strengths, and who do you consider their best players?
Where do I start! They've got so many fantastic players. I think their attack is especially strong. Players like (Thierry) Henry, (Karim) Benzema and (Nicolas) Anelka are capable of winning any game. But we're confident. They struggled in qualifying. I think everybody expected them to win the group but they only finished as runners-up.
What's it like working under Giovanni Trapattoni?
It's a privilege. He's a great manager with so much experience. He commands respect everywhere he goes.
What will the atmosphere be like at Croke Park for the first leg on Saturday? Do you think this will be a big advantage to the Irish?
It's going to be a very special occasion. It will be sold out and the atmosphere will be absolutely electric, so I think this will work in our favour. The Irish supporters are very, very passionate and their support will give us a big lift.
I played at the World Cup in 2002 and it was a great experience. I'd love to do that again. I think we're in with a great chance.
What will be the key to Republic of Ireland beating France?
We've got to keep it tight in the first leg. I think it's important that we don't concede. It won't be easy against such quality strikers, but our defenders are capable of stopping them. I think it will be a tight game, so hopefully we can take our chances. I actually think 0-0 would be a good result for us.
You brilliantly saved a penalty for Manchester City against Birmingham City recently. If the play-off goes to a shootout, will you be confident?
Penalties are a lottery. Fortunately I have done ok with them in the past, so hopefully if it goes to penalties this will continue. But a lot of it is down to luck, although you can try to psyche the taker out of it a bit. It's a win-win situation for keepers - the pressure is on the takers as they're expected to score.
What would it mean to you and the people of Ireland to play at South Africa 2010?
It would mean a hell of a lot to the people of Ireland to qualify. There's a lot of doom and gloom about with the recession, so it would be good to give the people something to look forward to. I played at the World Cup in 2002 and it was a great experience, the pinnacle of my career so far. I'd love to do that again.
Finally, do you believe Republic of Ireland will beat France and reach South Africa 2010?
We have to believe. We know France are the favourites but that's fine with us, it means there's more pressure on them. We need to just play our own game and give it everything. We have two massive games in front of us, but I think we're in with great chance of reaching the World Cup.