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Former Aston Villa Boss Recalls His Lucky Paul McGrath Celtic Escape

Former Aston Villa Boss Recalls His Lucky Paul McGrath Celtic Escape
Oisin Gaffey
By Oisin Gaffey Updated
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Former Manchester United and Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson was full of praise for Republic of Ireland legend Paul McGrath in a recent episode of the Under the Cosh podcast, describing him at the best centre-half to have ever played in the Premiership.

Atkinson, who managed Paul McGrath for a total of seven years at Manchester United and Aston Villa, detailed how he almost sold the legendary centre-back at the start of his time at Villa, whilst he offered invaluable insight into what the Irish defender was like on and off the pitch.

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Ron Atkinson on Paul McGrath's Early Career

On the Under the Cosh podcast, 'Big Ron' talked about his initial impression of Paul McGrath when he signed him for Manchester United in 1982, comparing him to Dutch legend Ruud Gullit.

I signed Paul McGrath, originally for Manchester United, for I think it was about £30,000 or something and he he was a bit raw. I'd seen Ruud Gullit play at Feyenord as he was at the time, and he either played up the right hand side or he played at the middle at the back.

When I first saw McGrath, I had this, this theory or feeling even, that he could do that, that if he didn't quite make it at Centre Half, he could always play him right hand side of midfield at centre half.


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Ron Atkinson Nearly Sold Paul McGrath to Liam Brady's Celtic

Atkinson was asked about Paul McGrath's personality, with an implicit reference to McGrath's off-the-pitch controversies. Firstly when he managed him at Manchester United, Atkinso argued that "a lot of the problems when I was there weren't apparent. He was just a young lad coming through. I knew he went out a little bit with certain people, but they were never, never as prevalent as apparently they became later on."

By 1991 when Atkinson took charge of Aston Villa, he heard of "all the stories" that were going around, describing them as "horrific". He admitted,

Quite honestly, when I got there, I thought If there's gonna be a problem, let's get it out of the way before we start. I actually offered him on the market and offered him to Liam Brady at Celtic

If Liam Brady had to come up with £1.5 million, I would have let him go. Liam was prepared to go to £750,000. I went No, no.

That was the luckiest escape I ever had, because I don't think there's ever been a better centre-half in the Premiership."

As for his abilities on the pitch, Atkinson was full of praise for Paul McGrath, highlighting his natural strength and his electric speed. He recalls a brilliant quote from Liverpool legend Ian Rush, who summed up perfectly the capabilities of McGrath:


"We knock the ball past him [McGrath] and by the time we get to the penalty here, he's waiting for me!"

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