With seven years at the club and just an FA Cup to show for it, it would be easy to over look the contribution of Paul Nwobilo to the tapestry of United’s history but despite injuries and well publicised problems with alcohol, he was still a might fine player.
Nwobilo or Paul McGrath as he is better known had a hard start in life. The illegitimate child of an interracial couple, he was abandoned by his father after conception, so fearing her family’s, as well as society’s, judgement his mother put him up for adoption. Born in London, he would be raised in Ireland, the country of his mother’s birth and play for St. Patrick’s Athletic where his performances earned him the nickname ‘The Black Pearl of Inchicore’
Spotting his talent, he joining the club under Ron Atkison in 1982 for £30,000 a relative unknown but that was not a hindrance as he took to being at United like he had been playing at the top level all his career even though United were already well stocked with defenders at the time. He was a hard tackler not afraid to get stuck in but also had an excellent reading of the game as well as poise and balance. Speaking to a pal he called McGrath a blend of Rio and Vida in one player.
In the 1985 FA Cup final against Everton he put in a man of the match performance in a game memorable not only for the dismisal of Kevin Moran, the first time in the competition’s final, but also for the job he did in marking Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp out of the game as United won 1-0 thanks to a Norman Whiteseide (who else!?) goal.
Having a read around I came across a story of a game he played where his brilliance was really highlighted. In August 1987 he was selected to play in a Football League team taking on a World XI to mark the league’s centenary. His performance that day at Wembley against Diego Maradona and Gary Lineker saw his stock rise even higher and he was linked with a number of top European clubs following the Football League team’s victory.
But there would be darker times ahead as off field problems with alcohol and the lurid paper headlines that would follow knocked some shine off of the defender. In April 1988 McGrath was placed on the transfer list at his own request but his knee problems required cartilage surgery and perhaps this was the root of a lack of interest in his services so the following season he was taken off the transfer list by then manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The writing was on the wall for him though as Sir Alex clamped down on the club’s drinking culture and in 1989 after 7 years at the club he was sold to Aston Villa for £450,000 whilst fellow drinker Norman Whiteside went to Everton. McGrath had been offered a £100k retirement package and a testimonial but he refused and rightly so as he continued to put in top quality performances for his new employers.
In 1994 he would win the PFA Player Of The Year award as well as gain a measure of revenge on his old manager as Aston Villa beat United in the League Cup final as well as play at the World Cup for Ireland putting in a stellar performance against Italy.
Alcohol and injury played a massive part in why his career doesn’t garner more attention but even now he is still looked upon as one of United’s best defenders. His spell at the club may not have been long or filled with trophies but it says all you need to know about his ability that he is still regarded so highly despite this.