Much like Brian Clough, Steve Coppell and Danny Thomas, Paul Lake emerged into Association Football with tremendous ability and a confidence in his style of play way beyond his tender years. Also, due to how good he was (imagine Manchester City’s current captain – the Belgian International Vincent Kompany, only better) and being English, Lake was having to shoulder a whole host of expectation from not just supporters of his club, Manchester City but England fans too.
Lake was a member of Manchester City's FA Youth Cup winning side of 1986, and went onto make his first-team debut in early 1987 for Mel Machin’s team. A versatile player, he made appearances in almost every outfield position, though central midfield and central defence proved to be his best positions. Lake won his first international honour in September 1988, playing for the England Under 21 side. Repeated solid performances at this level led to many experts tipping him for a bright future in the England team, including then England manager Bobby Robson. Lake was called up for the full squad on several occasions, but injury meant he had to drop out on each occasion.
However, Lake experienced continued bad luck with serious injuries, meaning this was never going to happen. Before he began his futile battle to save his career, Lake was involved in a pre-taster of what was to come. In a horrific incident, he was knocked unconscious in a clash of heads during a game against Leicester City, and with his airways blocked, very nearly died of suffocation if it wasn’t for the fast actions of the Manchester City physiotherapist. Lake made a full recovery, and assisted in gaining promotion for City back into the First Division. During the summer of 1990, Liverpool tried to sign the player for £3 million, but the then City chairman Peter Swales sensing a fan revolt of huge proportions, declined the offer. Installed as team captain at the centre of defence, a seemingly minor knee injury sustained near the start of the 1990-91 season following a challenge with Aston Villa’s Tony Cascarino was later diagnosed as a ruptured cruciate ligament, resulting in a two-year absence. At the start of the 1992-93 season Lake made his comeback playing in midfield for the inaugural Premiership campaign, his return described by his then manager Peter Reid as, "like having a brand new £3,000,000 signing." Another of Lake’s manager’s, Howard Kendall, added “I used to value him at £10 million when clubs asked about him, but that was in the days when clubs couldn’t afford that sort of money”. However, after eight minutes of his second game since returning – live on British satellite television - the ligament snapped again. After a pre-longed struggle with the injury, including 14 operations and only four reserve team appearances, Lake heartbreakingly had to admit defeat, and retired from playing in 1996.
Throughout his years of treatment, Lake was a figure of footballing hope for many Manchester City supporters. Whenever people saw a lack of skill and / or effort in defence or midfield, fans would quite vocally at times imagine it would be better when Lake was there shoring up the fort. In 1997, Manchester City granted the now retired player a testimonial match to reward his loyalty to the club, with local rivals United providing the opposition to ensure a capacity gate. Lake himself did play briefly, with his right knee heavily strapped inside a protective brace. Since retiring, Lake has moved the same way in the game as Danny Thomas, becoming a physiotherapist. After studying physiotherapy at Salford University, he had spells with Altrincham, Burnley and Oldham Athletic before joining Macclesfield Town, where he was the club physiotherapist for five years. In November 2007 he joined the medical staff at Bolton Wanderers. Lake left Bolton midway through the 2008–09 campaign, to open and operate his own physiotherapy practice in Greater Manchester until March 2010, when he was appointed Ambassador for Manchester City in the Community. In June 2013, Lake left Eastlands and became Club Support Manager with the Premier League. Lake also presents ‘Blue Tuesday’, a Manchester City themed radio programme on BBC Radio Manchester.
Those that never saw Lake play will just assume it’s a bit of over misty-eyed sentimentality about a useful player who experienced some of the worst luck anyone would not want to receive. I recall seeing Lake a few times when Manchester City visited Highfield Road, and he ran their ‘show’. The difference he would have made to the England team we will never know, but I personally think he would have gone onto become captain, and at the turn of the millennia playing in midfield alongside Stevie Gerrard (Lake the older, mature head, Gerrard full of youthful exuberance), England would have been quite formidable. If only.