Eddie Gray Stephen McPhail could have been one of the greats

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Eddie Gray Stephen McPhail could have been one of the greats

Postby leedshippriest on Thu Apr 26, 2012 11:25 pm

LEEDS UNITED legend Eddie Gray has insisted Cardiff City midfielder Stephen McPhail would have become one of football’s household names if he had only had an extra yard of pace.

Gray’s verdict comes as the Bluebirds prepare to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park tomorrow, knowing a draw in their final Championship match will see them through to the play-offs.

Cardiff hold a two-point and 10-goal advantage over the only team who can still deny them, Middlesbrough, going into the clash against the Eagles.

McPhail’s experience is likely to be key once more for Malky Mackay’s men, and Gray, who nurtured McPhail as a coach at Elland Road in the 1990s and was at Cardiff City Stadium last weekend commentating for Yorkshire Radio, believes his former protege was close to being one of the greats.


“If Stephen had just another yard of pace he would have been as good as any player I have seen,” said Gray.

“He can pass like a dream and, yes, he was that good.

“He played Premier League and European football for Leeds, but that yard of pace stopped him becoming a household name.

“That’s a bold statement, I know, but I have no doubt it’s true. Stephen could so easily have been up there with the absolute best.”

Gray, 64, had 18 years at Leeds as a player between 1965 and 1983, making 559 first-team appearances and won FA Cup and First Division winners’ medals.

He was youth team manager when McPhail first signed for Leeds at 15, had two spells as manager and was David O’Leary’s number two for a time.

Gray chatted to McPhail by phone last Friday, while the pair got together after the final whistle against Leeds.

McPhail said: “Eddie was the first coach to work with me at Leeds and had a huge influence on me.

“We had Jonathan Woodgate, Paul Robinson, Alan Smith, Harry Kewell in the under-18 team and won the FA Youth Cup, beating Crystal Palace over two legs in the final.”

McPhail made more than 100 first-team appearances for Leeds., while he had loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Millwall before leaving Elland Road for Barnsley in 2004.

Two years on, having helped Barnsley earn promotion to the Championship thanks to a play-off final win against Swansea City at the Millennium Stadium, McPhail signed for the Bluebirds.

Today, having battled back from his personal problems, McPhail is back at the centre of City’s midfield, playing a leading role in the chase for promotion.

He will be among the first names on Malky Mackay’s team sheet for the crucial final regular league match of the season at Crystal Palace.

“I am delighted Stephen is back playing so well and hope that is the case for a fair time yet,” said Gray.

“He is a gifted player and always has been. Of the top young players we had at Leeds, Stephen was the most naturally gifted.

“He was a youngster from Ireland when I first met him and the way he played people thought he wasn’t working hard, but that has never been the case.

“He has always been comfortable on the ball, has a great first touch and is rarely hurried.

“He never seemed to be in trouble and is a great passer of the ball.

“Stephen is as good today as he was back then. I remember Harry Kewell being asked who was the best team-mate he had played with and he didn’t hesitate to say McPhail. Stephen was and still is a top footballer. He did a great job for Leeds United and he’s still doing a fantastic job for Cardiff City.

“Malky Mackay is using Stephen well and it’s good that City’s manager understands the situation and makes sure everything he is used in the right way.”

McPhail has made more than 200 first-team appearances for the Bluebirds and was named Clubman of theYear during the Cardiff City Supporters Club awards evening.

He is a calming influence in City’s midfield and is enjoying his football after fearing at times during his problems that he would never play again.

“I’m enjoying it right at this moment in time,” said McPhail. “Okay, I’m not where I want to be in terms of fitness and that can be frustrating, but I am working to be available for every game.

“We have one league match left and there is nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. If we win at Palace we are in the play-offs.

“We are the form team in the Championship, unbeaten in nine matches, and everybody is good.

“ We know what we have to do at Selhurst Park and we’ll do everything possible to finish in the top six. City fans have been magnificent in their support for me and I will always be grateful for that.

“I would like to repay them just a little by playing a part in helping City make sure we are in the play-offs.

“Their support is phenomenal and everybody in our dressing room thanks them for that.”




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