Every football fan can feel that he or she has a special affinity with one of their players. I guess it’s probably to do with our age, where we were and what we were doing at the time. It’s also to to do with that particular player’s qualities, how they hold themselves, how they talk and most of all how they played the game.
This is not a piece about Paul Lake‘s essential story.
For this, you need and must read his autobiography: I’m Not Really Here. If you have not read this, then you must immediately go out out and buy it. Just a few clicks on your laptop or a quick stroll down to your nearest bookshop will fix that.
And you must.
It remains the greatest football autobiography ever written.
It never gets old and it repays multiple readings. Joanne Lake co-authored the book and as we can see from Shades of Blue (The David White story) and The Man in the Middle (Howard Webb), the talent is more than equally divided in the Lake household. These are two more must-have books for anyone’s collection.
But I want to write about Paul Lake the player, for the years that we got to see him. Silly I know, but it surprises me how it still annoys me just a little these days, when young blues go doo-lally over our latest wunderkind. For sure, we have signed some exciting talents who are now raising the collective blood pressure of City fans young and old. I don’t begrudge the kids their moment, I really don’t. But I have this one small consolation: you never saw Paul Lake. You can’t take that away from me and those of my age.
How can I best explain it to you?
Imagine a combination of Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and a bit of Carlos Tevez crammed into one young man. That’s how Paul was and that was how he played. He was one of the most extravagantly talented players of his generation and he had the great Paul Gascoigne seriously worried for his place in the England team. When he burst on the scene at City, you couldn’t buy him, you couldn’t copy him and no one could touch him. He was truly magnificent.
Sliding Doors moment: if it were not for the hands of fate, it could have been Paul who dominated Italia ’90.
And I wish it had been. He was that good.
He rightly takes his place in our pantheon of greats: Bert Trautmann, Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee, Georgi Kinkladze, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and the rest.
Sometimes Paul Gascoigne corrects people nowadays when they talk about what might have been for him. As if his career was somehow a disappointment. He reminds them what a great career he had despite the injuries and the premature ending.
Paul Lake’s career was of course short too. Much shorter than Gazza’s, but for a few years Lakey lit up the football world like a bolt of lightning. He disappointed nobody. The whole of Europe took notice of Paul in the late 1980s.
Whilst honouring him for the way he emerged from his career-ending injuries to become a great man of class and integrity, we cannot and we must not forget about the breathtaking skills he put on view.
Lake had it all: Energy to burn, a cracking shot, uncompromising in the tackle and the full range of passes beautifully delivered, both long and short. He was brave, elegant, unselfish, quick and devastatingly effective. It seemed sometimes as though Lakey didn’t really understand how good he was.
We understood very well, but Paul was and always has been disarmingly modest. He bore comparison with anyone in Europe at the time.
There is no doubt in my mind that Guardiola would have loved him and there are few in our current team with anything like the same ridiculous range of skills. Steven Gerrard would be the closest approximation that younger readers could relate to but Paul was far more versatile and just as accomplished as a leader, passer, captain and timer of a tackle. Paul was easily the match of more celebrated names like Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard. That should put it into context for you.
No need for the usual sad scripts about what might have been here. When we think of Paul Lake the player, we must conclude: there walked an outstanding competitor.
But the one thing you notice about Paul these days is: Wow! He really talks about the game just as elegantly as he played it!
Why isn’t Paul on Match of the Day instead of some of those others? Danny Murphy and Trevor Sinclair are good but Paul would increase their ratings a thousand-fold!
To listen to Paul talk about the game, you are immediately struck by the wisdom, the forthrightness, the passion and the fairness that were hallmarks of his playing style.
I am extremely gratified to see that Paul Lake is almost every bit as winning as a pundit as he was a player: charming, effusive, knowledgeable, persuasive and charismatic.
Right here and now, I wish to call upon all readers to start the process of lobbying to get Paul on more of our highlights shows.
For his unique perspective, his knowledge and his articulate dissection of the modern game he deserves no less than to be an ever-present on Sky, BT and the BBC.
That he remains a handsome bastard, doesn’t hurt either!
Let’s get Paul Lake on the box.
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