A WORLD CUP qualifier against international new boys Gibraltar is not supposed to be an arduous affair.
UEFA’s newest member has a team largely comprising part-time players, who combine footballing duties with those as police officers, firemen, admin clerks or even storemen.
Only a couple of professionals have represented Gibraltar in the qualifiers for Euro 2016, the country’s debut in major competition, so it is perhaps no surprise that the more established nations have made light work of the new boys.
One of the heavier defeats came in March at Hampden Park, as Scotland ran out 6-1 winners in a very one-sided contest.
Shaun Maloney, Hull City’s latest recruit, netted two of those half-dozen goals so, presumably, he rather enjoyed that romp against Gibraltar?
Not at all, it turns out, with Scotland’s biggest win for nine years, instead, being the moment when the reality of his move to the United States just two months earlier finally hit home with the 32-year-old.
“The Gibraltar game was one when I struggled physically in the second half,” Maloney told The Yorkshire Post yesterday at City’s temporary training base of Bishop Burton College.
“It was the first gathering after I’d moved to the States. I had to fly from San Francisco to Glasgow, train the next day and then play the day after that (in a friendly against Northern Ireland).
“Then, a few days after that, I had to play a qualifier. Physically, I noticed a huge difference in the second half against Gibraltar. I just didn’t feel right.
“Before going to the States, I had spoken to the national team manager (Gordon Strachan) and he was fine about me moving.
“I asked if it would have a negative effect on my international career and he said, ‘No, not at all’. But, on a physical level, I realised after that first time in March, I was going to find it very hard.
“I started to think that, no matter how much the manager had said moving to the States wouldn’t make a difference, there was a chance it would impact on me physically.
“It became an issue for me. The more I thought about it, the more I felt it would be difficult for me to be at my best. I also felt it would be a little bit unfair on my team-mates that I wasn’t going to be at my best.
“I didn’t want to let anyone down. As anyone who has travelled long distances will tell you, the first few days can be pretty hard.
“And it is such a fine margin of success at club level, never mind internationally. So, you have to be at your very best physically.
“I am very fortunate to be in the squad and want to stay in the squad. But if I am not quite 100 per cent physically right, I don’t think I can do myself justice physically.
“I didn’t want to let anyone down. That weighed heavily on my mind from March onwards.”
The more Maloney reflected on the matter, the more he realised that a move back to the UK would be in his best interests. The big problem, however, was that Chicago Fire had put a lot of work into his transfer from Wigan Athletic at the start of this year and were keen to hold on to the midfielder.
That remained the club’s stance even when Hull’s interest became known early in the summer but, finally, Maloney got his move after several weeks when it seemed to hang in the balance.
“The longer a deal drags on, you do have worries,” said the Scotland international. “Particularly with me asking to leave Chicago.
“I do hope the relationships are still intact over there. Telling them I wanted to leave was a difficult part, particularly with the owner (Andrew Hauptman). He was the one who brought me there.
“The travelling, though, was just too much. I had spoken to the press in Scotland about the travel and I thought it was something I could deal with.
“Or find a way to deal with it. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t. That is why I fought so hard when we played (the Republic of) Ireland in June to get back over here the week before.
“I managed to do it and felt so different in that Ireland game compared to Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Totally different.
“The first of those fixtures had been literally less than 48 hours after travelling such a distance. Anyone who goes to the States finds it hard. I still haven’t found a way to beat jet-lag.
“Along with the travelling, knowing that the manager at Hull wanted me was a big incentive to come back.
“Being involved in a daily basis with Hull was a big pull for me, along with wanting to get back to the Premier League.
“There were times when the deal was going to happen and also when it wasn’t. Finally, we got it done and I am so happy to be here.”
Steve Bruce, who was last night waiting to hear if Maloney’s international clearance had come through, will be hoping Chicago’s loss can very much be the Tigers’ gain.