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I wanted Fergie to lose every match!; EXCLUSIVE: UNITED AND ME By PAUL McGRATH Now I'm hoping they hammer Fenerbahce.

Paul McGrath could have been excused for cheering when he heard Newcastle 5, Manchester United 0. Or even yesterday's Southampton 6, United 3.

In fact, he freely admits that not long ago he would have done!

McGrath, a brilliant defender for a decade and a half, had a simple reason for itching to see his old mates lose - he loved to hate Alex Ferguson and United!

He prayed they'd lose every game and laughed when the Almighty answered with the odd defeat.

McGrath's Old Trafford days ended in a storm of controversy with Fergie sending him packing - and pal Norman Whiteside too - after drinking sprees which would, apparently, make Gazza and Paul Merson think twice about hitting the bar with them.

"I was very bitter at the time because I didn't realise what I was doing would be viewed so seriously by Ferguson," explains McGrath.

"I'd been injured for long spells and with the time hanging heavily, sure I took the odd drink with Big Norm.

"Ferguson wasn't going to have it and bombed us both out. It nearly broke my heart and I prayed for United to get beaten."

Time heals and ten years on, after another stormy departure - this time from Aston Villa - Macca has shaken hands with his one-time deadly enemy Ferguson.

He realises that the Scotsman is "something else" as a manager and is saying his prayers again - this time for a Reds victory march across Europe . . . despite that awful hiding they took on Tyneside last weekend.

"I've had to hold my hands up and admit Alex's done a brilliant job, organised the club magnificently.

"There's nothing I'd like more than to see him beat Fenerbahce on Wednesday and go all the way in the competition."

At the heart of any United victory celebration will be Gary Pallister - the central defender brought in as Big Paul's replacement at Old Trafford.

McGrath counts himself one of Pally's most fervent fans and doesn't even suffer an after-taste of sour grapes.

"The boy's done superbly. He reads things brilliantly and has genuine presence. He's a reassuring sight for the rest of the team."

McGrath though, has smaller fish to fry these day as the latest addition to Jim Smith's newly promoted Derby County.

He arrived at the Baseball Ground after some heated exchanges with Villa boss Brian Little.

Macca reveals: "I made it clear I wanted first team football. I was knocking on his door every day and I probably annoyed him.

"I think Brian was trying to be kind to me by including me on the bench. It felt as if he was doing me a favour and that was the last thing I wanted.

"Then the Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy pulled me aside and marked my card about the international situation.

"He warned me that if I wasn't in the Villa first team he couldn't pick me. That was in Liechtenstein and when I was excluded from the squad in Macedonia I was devastated.

"I made it clear to Brian Little that I had to get the move and, in fairness, things happened very quickly after that."

But McGrath is anxious to stamp on any suggestion that a renewed liking for alcohol contributed to this Villa exit.

He snapped: "Let's just put it this way - when you see me next, mine's a coffee.

"There's been more than enough stuff written about that. Yes, of course I'm dry.

"All I want to do is go on for as long as possible. I love the game as much now as when I started out as a kid."

McGrath, 37 in December, had signed a new one-year Villa contract in the summer worth a reputed pounds 600,000.

"I'd been a regular first-teamer for most of last season, part of a squad which won the Coca Cola Cup and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

"I'd had a great season and I couldn't believe it when I found I was not going to be involved.

"If I'd believed I wasn't going to be in the first team this season I'd never have agreed a new deal.

"There were whispers that Gareth Southgate was going to get my position at the heart of the defence but I just smiled knowingly and said 'Ah, yeah, the midfielder!'" In the end, McGrath was left laughing on the other side of his face as the former Crystal Palace player developed into one of the country's best central defenders.

"Fair play to Gareth. I was wrong about him and he's done fantastically well but his success did nothing to help me, did it?

"He has developed into a top class player and there's a lot of quality all over the park.

"People were sniping a couple of weeks ago that Villa were on the slide . . . but that's nonsense.

"They are well organised and very difficult to beat. They are a terrific bunch of lads and there's plenty of depth in the squad.

"There must, be mustn't there because that's the reason I had to leave in the end?"

Now he's with Derby - preparing to tackle Liverpool at Anfield today - and producing some pretty awesome performances in the autumn of a career which he describes simply.

"It's not been a bed of roses, has it? I've had my highs and lows but at least I'm playing first team football again.

"There's a tremendous spirit at Derby and a lot of youngsters who are more than willing to learn. That's a pretty good starting point. I was very pleased with what I saw when I got here!"

For McGrath, the ghosts of Fergie and United have been laid to rest at last.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Southon, Hugh
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 27, 1996
Words:948
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