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Steve Bruce’s story about replacing Paul McGrath at Man United shows just how great he was

paul mcgrath

Despite Alex Ferguson’s insistence on selling Paul McGrath, the Manchester United players could see just how good he was.

There are certain times when great players just don’t fit certain clubs. As Paul McGrath’s time at Man United shows.

Paul McGrath at Man United.

Perhaps a manager just can’t get the best out of them, maybe a system doesn’t play to their strengths, but more commonly, it’s just a clash of personalities.

In the case of Paul McGrath at Manchester United, you could argue that his move from Old Trafford to Aston Villa for a fee of just £450,000 is one of the rare decisions that Fergie got wrong.

Paul McGrath Manchester United

Ferguson and McGrath.

Granted, after leaving Aberdeen for Manchester United, Fergie was insistent on curbing McGrath’s drinking habits. This, and the need to break up the drinking culture at the club which involved the likes of McGrath, Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside.

Ultimately, Fergie would guide United to the promised land and end their 26-year run without a league title, the bedrock of this was a centre-back pairing of Steve Bruce and Gary Palliser.

During an interview with Sky Sports, the current Newcastle United manager was asked about his first impressions of Old Trafford after he joined Manchester United from Norwich City in 1987. It’s clear that the task of replacing Paul McGrath was a daunting one for the Geordie because, after just two training sessions, he knew just how good the Irish defender was.

Paul McGrath Manchester United

Bruce on McGrath.

“For a start, the difficult change was walking into the dressing room and seeing the likes of Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, Gordan Strachan, Jesper Olson, and of course, I’m sitting next to Paul McGrath.

“After training with him for just two days, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, am I supposed to be replacing him?!?!’

“He is absolutely unbelievable. Unfortunately, Paul was dogged with injuries and didn’t maybe play enough. But, you know, he went to Aston Villa, trained on a bike, and I think he won their player of the year four times.”

Of course, Ferguson and McGrath’s relationship would remain sour for quite some time until the Coca-Cola Cup final in 1994.

McGrath after Man United.

After McGrath left for Villa Park, the pair wouldn’t speak for five years until the League Cup final in 1994 – a defeat which cost Manchester United a domestic treble.

As McGrath said: “I owed the Villa fans big time, so to get that cup was just enormous, and to do it against your old club is fabulous.

“Sir Alex came in and we ended that stupidity that had been going on, he just said ‘Well done big man’ and he gave me… an awful whack in the chest really to be honest, and then he shook hands. But I took that as love.

“It turns out he was a decent man and five years were wasted of my life disliking him.”

Read next – The day Paul McGrath produced the best performance ever by an Ireland player.

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