Football is not only about money and glory. Far from the madding crowds some players endure the long lonely fight against injury and often face the heartache of early retirement.
Paul Lake was an brilliant midfielder, idolised at Manchester City and a member of Bobby Robson’s provisional squad for Italia 90. He was destined to become an England regular until injury struck. One shudders to imagine how much a fit Paul Lake would be worth today. £50 million?
A member of Manchester City’s FA Youth Cup winning side of 1986, Lake made his first-team debut on 24 January 1987 at Wimbledon. Continuing to impress for City, he was often touted as City’s next England Captain.
After the appointment of Howard Kendall as manager in 1989, Paul was soon installed as captain of the side despite the presence of some senior players including the likes of Colin Hendry and Peter Reid, both vastly experienced international campaigners. An honoured and proud Lake accepted his new role with relish.
A seemingly minor knee injury sustained near the start of the 1990/91 season following a challenge with Tony Cascarino was later diagnosed as a ruptured cruciate ligament resulting in a two-year absence.
At the commencement of the 1992/93 season Lake made his comeback playing in midfield in the inaugural Premiership campaign, his return described by Peter Reid as, “like having a brand new £3 million signing.” However, after eight minutes of his second game away at Middlesbrough, the ligament snapped again.
After a long struggle with injury including 14 operations and only four reserve team appearances, Lake retired in 1996.
His special ability would undoubtedly have seen him feature in any side of the last twenty years. I still believe today that the man from Denton had the natural ability and mental strength to be in the best squad ever assembled in English football.
A man once linked with moves to Tottenham, United, Chelsea and Arsenal, Paul was never seriously tempted to move away from his beloved Maine Road. He was reported to be the subject of a £3,000,000 bid from Liverpool, then managed by Kenny Dalglish.
A debate that fans often have is which City players would get into the current squad and many believe that Paul was certainly deserving of his place among the best.
Sadly due to injuries, he never fulfilled his potential on the pitch but remains in the hearts of fans as a genuine City hero.