Aston Villa Legend Series: Paul McGrath
Paul McGrath is arguably the greatest Aston Villa player of all time with his dominant defensive displays combined with an unrivalled ability to read a game earning him the title “God” around Villa park.
Whilst in modern football, managers are often heard complaining about fixture congestion, with players regularly being monitored by fitness coaches, McGrath’s time at villa featured a rather unique scenario. The Irishman relied upon a limited an almost non-existent training regime as a result of a recurring, knee injury yet still managed to produce superb performances week in, week out.
Despite his knees troubling him for most of his career, he always had a good burst of pace and was capable of tracking the play and hunting the ball down with a ruthless efficiency. He was fearless in both the air and in the tackle and never seemed to make a mistake, with his reading of game and incredible defensive positioning allowing him to react quicker than his opponents.
After signing for Villa in 1989, McGrath transformed a team that narrowly escaped relegation the previous season, becoming the defensive rock that Villa’s second placed campaigns in 1989/90 and 1992/93 were founded on. His immense contribution to the Villa cause was recognised by his fellow professionals as he was voted PFA Players' Player of the Year in 1993.
A year later, McGrath won his first of league cup medals with the club, defeating his former club, Manchester United. Remarkably, McGrath had sustained a frozen shoulder ahead of the game and needed painkilling injections to get him onto the pitch. His performance, however, as was now becoming very much the normal way of things, hardly betrayed the matter as he played a huge part in a 3-1 victory.
Two years later, McGrath won his second league cup, putting in another outstanding performance as Villa beat Leeds United 3-0 at Wembley.
McGrath was adored by those he played alongside and when asked to describe him, Roy Keane said: “Big Paul, an angel of a man, was an outstanding footballing centre-half. For him, the word big is appropriate.”