Dennis Wise sat David Healy down at Leeds United to try to crack the enigma. Kevin Blackwell had done the same before him and so had Craig Brown when they were at Preston.
The thing they all wanted to know was this: Why can’t Healy score as many goals for his club as he scores for his country?
It is hard to imagine what they expected to hear in reply. Healy’s club record might not match his phenomenal Northern Ireland strike rate, but it is still pretty good. The modest man from County Down, apart from happily admitting he is “not very tall and not very quick”, is not prone to long periods of self-analysis.
“I just can’t put my finger on it,” said 5ft 8in Healy, who now plays for Fulham. “I’ve been asked by previous managers why I score so many international goals against supposedly better defenders, but I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.
“Confidence is everything for strikers and when I turn up I’m expecting to score — and I think the whole country is expecting me to score.”
For the record, Healy has 32 in 59 games for his country. That is more international goals than Alan Shearer, Ian Rush or Kenny Dalglish and a superior strike rate to Michael Owen.
He annihilated the all-time Northern Ireland goal record of 13, previously held by Colin Clarke, and has 12 in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign alone, equalling a record held by Croatia’s Davor Suker, with three games to play.
Healy said: “When I first came on to the scene and scored a couple, people were saying I could beat the record. Then I scored five or six and they were saying maybe I could double it.
“At that time, anyone saying they were going to score 20 goals for Northern Ireland would have been picked up and put in a straitjacket.”
At club level, Healy has 80 league goals in 286 appearances, although 70 of those were as a substitute.
His first Premier League goal was a gift from Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann on the opening day of this season, but he took his tally to three with a goal in the Carling Cup against Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday.
Healy, a £1.5million July signing from Leeds, said: “If I hadn’t scored for Fulham already there would be people saying I’m a waste of money, or I’m out of my depth, or I can’t make the step up. Fortunately, I was bought on the cheap. I don’t have a £5m price tag.”
If anyone is going to convert Healy’s prolific international strike rate into Premier League goals then it is surely Lawrie Sanchez, the man who managed him at Northern Ireland for three successful years.
Fulham boss Sanchez made the Leeds striker a priority signing as soon as he took over permanently at Craven Cottage and he will be hoping for another special goal when the team head to Chelsea today.
Healy insists he does not have a favourite goal, but one matters more than most in Belfast. It is the goal which sank England and convinced Irish fans to call him ‘God’.
It also meant he could never enjoy a quiet pint in a pub back home. “It was a special goal for me,” said the striker. “It was a goal that just made you believe. That was a huge night for the supporters. Lawrie said we’d go down as national heroes if we won. And we have. Ask 95 per cent of Northern Ireland fans and they can name the team that night.
“It’s hard to go out in Belfast. It’s not so bad walking down the street, people will second-glance you. But it’s difficult on a night out with friends and family. Sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed.”
At least ‘God’ helped him shake the ‘New George Best’ tag he acquired when he signed for Manchester United from school.
Healy, 28, said: “No matter how good you were when you arrived at Old Trafford from Northern Ireland, whether you were a striker or a centre half, people just assumed you were the next George Best. Norman Whiteside had it, too.
“I made my debut for Northern Ireland and people starting thinking: he plays for United, he’s scored a couple, we’ll call him the New George Best.
“It never once put added pressure on me. I never thought: ‘Oh no, I haven’t scored in that game, they won’t call me the New George Best any more’.”
Healy was star-struck when he met the legendary Best and asked his hero to sign one of his Northern Ireland shirts. The Fulham striker is now helping raise funds for the George Best Memorial Trust, set up to pay for a statue in Belfast.
He has followed the same path as his idol from Northern Ireland, to Old Trafford and now to Craven Cottage, although the similarities end there.
Healy insists he does not live the Best lifestyle, quickly adding: “Apart from the Miss World waiting in the car!”
He does not pretend to boast Best’s talent but he does have an eye for goal and a sense for the big occasion.
With two away wins in two-and-ahalf years and with Chelsea looking to extend a three-year unbeaten home record, Fulham could do with both God and Best in the team at Stamford Bridge.