Some might view the fact that Gareth McAuley is West Bromwich Albion’s eighth all-time top scorer in the Premier League as a harsh indictment of Pulis-ball and a reflection of the Brummie club’s relatively low status, but this would be an unfair assessment. To focus on the negative rather than laud the Northern Irishman’s achievement would be like looking back on Claudio Ranieri’s time at Leicester in years to come and denigrating him for the eventual collapse.
Others regard him as a Fantasy Football phenomenon, a cult hero in the mould of Champ Man’s Cherno Samba. The ex-Ipswich man has won fans across the globe over the last couple of seasons with his cheap price tag and reliable points haul. Hell, the writer of this piece knows the joys of being McAuley’s gaffer as much as the next fantasy addict. Just check out the team below if you don’t believe that the passion is real. This should not be the limit of his reputation, though; the diuturnal defender has proven himself to be one of the league’s most consistent performers both at the back and going forward in not only the world of gaming, but in the physical realm too.
This is a player who did not manage to gain a consistent place in Lincoln City’s starting line-up until the age of 25, yet has in the twilight of his career become both a mainstay of the Premier League’s eighth best team and a defender who looks like he might achieve the incredibly rare feat of reaching double figures in a Premier League season. To emphasise his remarkable run, McAuley has now netted more times this term than Christian Eriksen, Mesut Özil, Kevin de Bruyne and Paul Pogba.
It’s all enough to make you start dreaming of a Real Madrid swoop and the combined threat McAuley and Sergio Ramos would possess at corners. The Jamie Vardy film would be shelved and a portrayal of a far more admirable professional planned. We won’t hold our breath, though.
Another aspect of his game to be lauded is the strength of character shown this season, having his best year yet despite having to deal with the misery of putting Northern Ireland out of Euro 2016 with an unfortunate own goal. That could have led many players of a similar age to retire, but not Gareth McAuley.
The most incredible thing of all though is, as alluded to in the previous point, McAuley’s age. This is a 37-year-old human being causing multi-million pound players in the peak of their powers problems at both ends of the field in what is ostensibly the most difficult league on earth. The whole world seems to be, quite rightly, marvelling at the form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the moment; the fact that Gareth McAuley is two years older than the Swede is jaw-dropping.
So, here’s to Gareth. May he continue to confound science and logic for years to come. And keep getting those headers, for the sake of my teams and others everywhere.
Gareth McAuley has more right to being a club legend at West Brom over this lot and their respective clubs!