Former Ireland footballer Paul McGrath has led the tributes to Jack Charlton, following the former Republic of Ireland manager’s death at the age of 85.
A Leeds United legend and member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team, to Irish soccer fans Charlton will always be remembered as the man who transformed the fortunes of the Republic’s national team, taking them to three national tournaments including Euro 88 and two World Cups in 1990 and 1994.
He spent his entire 21-year playing career at Leeds, making a joint club record 773 appearances, before retiring as a player in 1973 and going on to enjoy a successful and colourful career as a pundit, then as a manager.
One of English football's most popular and larger-than-life characters, he had spells in charge of Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and his hometown club Newcastle before taking over the Republic of Ireland team in 1986.
In a statement, the former Manchester United and Aston Villa defender, who played some of his best games under Charlton, said he was “absolutely gutted” to hear the news as he led tributes to his former manager.
“Today, I am truly heartbroken at Jack’s passing," the statement from Paul McGrath read.
“It is difficult for me to articulate what Jack meant to me both on and off the football field. Throughout his ten years as manager of our International team, Jack backed me as a footballer and as a person - he became a father figure to me.
“He gave me his full support when I needed it most and for which I am forever grateful. He has been a hugely important person in my life.
“The Irish people warmed to him because of his big character and he gave us the belief in ourselves to compete in the big tournaments. I am very honoured to have been a part of Jack’s journey.
“Today is a sad day for the Irish football community and we all owe him a huge gratitude for the joy and memories he has given us. He is a man I genuinely loved.”