AVILLAFAN XI (1990-Present) – Centre Backs
As we weren’t sure how to best divide the centre backs, we decided to let the Aston Villa faithful choose their perfect centre-back partnership. This way it means, for example, the likes of Paul McGrath and Martin Laursen were not in the same section which is a good thing as that’s the partnership you guys voted for.
Special mentions to Olof Mellberg, Shaun Teale and Gareth Southgate who were also popular amongst the Villa faithful.
So let’s start this part of the AVILLAFAN XI feature with God himself, Mcgrath.
Name: Paul McGrath
Nationality: Republic of Ireland
Aston Villa career statistics:
Played: 1989 – 1996
Appearances: 253 (Competitive)
Paul McGrath signed for Aston Villa in August 1989 for a fee of £400,000 from Manchester United. It could have been very different however as both Sheffield Wednesday and Italian side Napoli were also interested in the Irishman’s signature.
The signing came with risks with McGrath suffering from alcohol addiction. At one point Manchester United even offered him a retirement package said to be worth around £100,000. It turned out it wasn’t so much a risk for Villa though, despite issues with his knee he went on to become a legend and a firm fan favourite.
During his first season at Aston Villa, it was clear just how important he was to the club making 35 appearances. The club came close to winning the league that season, finishing second to Liverpool.
The following season saw the complete opposite for the club, as they battled relegation following the loss of manager Graham Taylor, who went on to write his own story for England. McGrath continued to impress, even if the club struggled.
McGrath teamed up once again with former manager, Ron Atkinson when he became the new Villa boss in 1992. This was the season described the best of his professional career. Aston Villa once again challenged at the top of the table, which was the first-ever Premier League campaign.
Villa finished second, this time to McGrath’s former club, Manchester United. As a sign of how much he was regarded by his fellow professionals, he was also voted the Players Player of the Year award.
The following season, McGrath won his first trophy with Aston Villa when they defeated Manchester United at Wembley. Villa won 3-1 at Wembley to win the then named Coca Cola Cup (League Cup).
A couple of seasons later, McGrath won a second League Cup with Villa, this time beating Leeds 3-0 at Wembley.
In the autumn of 1996, he departed Aston Villa when he joined Derby County for £200,000. He finished his career at Sheffield United in 1997 at the age of 39.
McGrath left a legacy at Aston Villa and is often referred to as God by the Villa faithful. His name is often still sung on a matchday when fans sing ‘Paul McGrath my lord’ to the tune of ‘Kumbaya’.
Video credit to ‘ohitmustbe‘
Name: Martin Laursen
Aston Villa career statistics:
Appearances: 84 (Competitive)
Martin Laursen signed for Aston Villa in May 2004, for a fee of £3,000,000 from Italian giants AC Milan. Laursen struggled to establish himself at Milan at the writing was on the wall when they signed Jaap Stam. Their loss was Villa’s gain.
Despite a few positive performances, the start of his career didn’t go the way the Danish defender would have liked. He made his debut in a 2-0 win over Southampton in August 2004. Due to a knee injury returning, that had plagued his career early on, the Dane only made 12 Premiership appearances that season.
The following season didn’t prove much better as he only made a single appearance that season. It was in a 2-2 draw with Bolton. In the 2006 summer, his future in football was a doubt due to his knee problems. Following an operation, He underwent a full rehabilitation in Bologna, before returning to Villa for pre-season training under new manager Martin O’Neill.
O’Neill supported Laursen by allowing him to train as and when he wanted to limit his injuries. He played 15 games during the 2006-07 season, his best season to date as he started to become a crucial member of O’Neill’s side.
The 2007-2008 season, saw his best return as an Aston Villa player as he became a firm fan favourite. Laursen made 39 appearances and also contributed to the goals with 6 that campaign. Three of those goals came against Tottenham Hotspur. One in a 2-1 home victory and the other two in a thrilling 4-4 draw at White Hart Lane.
Villa and Laursen agreed a new 2 and half year contract in January 2008. He played all games for Villa that season, excluding the games in the League Cup. The Villa supporters also voted him as their player of the season that campaign.
Laursen became club captain for the 2008-09 season, following the departure of Gareth Barry to Manchester City. He captained his first game in the UEFA Intertoto Cup and continued his goal-scoring record from set-pieces when he scored the second goal in a 2-2 draw against Odense BK of Denmark.
He went on to score 4 during that campaign including a goal in a memorable European night at Villa Park as they beat Dutch giants Ajax 2-1. Laursen was then named the 2008 Danish Football Player of the Year in November 2008.
Credit to ‘AVFC Clips‘
In December 2008 the Dane was injured again. He returned in January in a 2-1 over local rivals West Bromwich Albion but suffered an injury relapse. The game proved to be his final game of his Aston Villa and professional football career. Laursen announced his retirement in May 2009 rather than undergo further major surgery.
On the final game of that season against Newcastle United, Lausen appeared in front of the Villa Park faithful. He thanked the fans as the fans paid tribute to the defender.