Profiles of the Great, the Good, and the God Damn Awful: No. 1: Paul McGrath

Matt BinksCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2009


As football fans, we will no doubt have read many articles and heard many stories about players such as Pele, Maradona, Georgie Best, etc. These are players that are world renowned and rightly so.

This series of articles will not focus on players like that.

Instead, I will bring you players that aren't written about too often. Some will be great players, some will be good players, and some will be players that should probably be left un-remembered. But either way, they have a story to be told.

I am going to start my article with a player who could have been the greatest centre half the world has ever seen. These are the words of Sir Alex Fergsuon, not mine.

Paul McGrath was a tough and yet classy centre half. His ability to read a game was second to none, and he was an excellent ball player who often started his teams attacks from his own half.

After a series of impressive displays in the Irish league. McGrath earned a dream move across the water to England, and to Manchester United. His early career showed huge promise and fantastic potential, both as a centre half and a midfielder.

This potential was somewhat realized with a man of the match performance in the 1985 FA cup final.

Unfortunately, this was as good as it got for McGrath at United. Under new manager Alex Ferguson, the two things that would plague his entire career came to the fore.

McGrath's injury problems were so bad, that prior to selling him to Aston Villa, Ferguson offered McGrath a substantial financial package and testimonial to retire. Mcgrath refused.

McGrath's other demon, and certainly the most damaging to McGrath the man, was alcohol. He suffered with heavy drinking problems his entire life, something that had near fatal results on multiple occasions.

It is something that he regrets most of all, and something that he faces a constant battle with to this day.

The combination of a lack of fitness and damaging personal problems left Ferguson with no choice but to offload McGrath. Ferguson has said on numerous occasions that this was anything but a footballing decision.

If McGrath's career was expected to end with a move away from Old Trafford, people were very much mistaken.

Mcgrath is known as one the greatest players in Aston Villa's history. His series of impressive displays earned him plaudits from media, fans, management and experts alike, culminating in two second place finishes for the Villains, and a PFA player of the year award in 1993, unbelievable for a player considered "on the scrapheap" only four years earlier.

This story is perhaps even more remarkable for the fact that throughout his Villa career he was unable to train with the team because of his injuries. This is similar to the situation with Ledley King today, only McGrath never missed games.

McGrath was also voted one of the top three Irish footballers of all time, alongside Roy Keane and Johnny Giles. The Irish fans worshipped McGrath and rightly so.

His most famous performance came in the 1994 world cup. Defending a 1-0 lead against favourites Italy, McGrath produced a virtuoso performance to ensure victory. He kept Roberto Baggio, the worlds best player at the time, almost invisible throughout.

This performance included a passage of play considered by Jack Charlton, a world cup winning defender himself, to be the best piece of defending seen on the world stagie. Bobby Moore included.

McGrath slid in on Roberto Baggio to nick a ball away that was played into the Italians feet. The ball fell loose to an Italian attacker on the edge of the area, and he instantly chipped the ball back in to the head of Baggio.

Baggio had the advantage as he was standing, but McGrath managed to rise from a lying down position, to not only challenge Baggio, but beat him to the ball in the air.

The defending was not over yet. McGrath again landed on the floor, with the ball again landing at the feet of an Italian attacker. The ball was struck hard and straight towards goal. McGrath dived, again from the floor to take the ball square in the face.

Now most footballers at this point would stay down, knowing full well the referee would stop the game for a head injury.

Not McGrath. Instead, he rose of his feet to chase down the loose ball.

This kind of determination and heart was what gave him the nickname "God", and spurned the legendary "Ooh ahh Paul McGrath" chant, long before Cantona had ever flicked his collar at Old Trafford.

As McGrath got older he had spells at Derby and Sheffield United, but for two years at least, McGrath was possibly the greatest defender in the world.

It is equally shocking and saddening to think about how good McGrath could have actually been, but ask any Villa fan about him and you will be guaranteed a smile and a story, be it of his player of the year winning performances in 93, or the time he man marked Alan Shearer whilst drunk, a story confirmed by both parties.

McGrath was without doubt one of the finest defenders the premiership has ever seen, and a worthy entry into the Great, good and God damn awful series.

McGrath was undoubtedly one of the greats.