The Gerrard of Scotland; A TRUE TALENT: ODonnell Found Fame at Motherwell but Went on to Win the League Title with Celtic, Honours with Scotland (Top Left) and Also Had a Spell in England with Sheffield Wednesday (Bottom Left)
Byline: Fraser Mackie
HE was known affectionately as Uncle Phil in his second spell as aMotherwell player, as his nephew David Clarkson became a top-team colleague atFir Park. But it says much for the inspirational qualities of Phil ODonnellthat he could also juggle being father figure, model professional and a truegentleman for every footballer at the club to look up to as their season kepton soaring until yesterdays dreadful events.
Chris Porter, who signed only a few months ago from Oldham, summed up theregard in which he was held by simply describing him as a great player and agreat person.
The football world agreed as it digested the news of his sudden death lastnight and, amid the shock, took a fond look back at his life and career as aclass act on and off the pitch. The family feel was impossible to escape fromas the man who signed him and gave him his debut for the Fir Park club, TommyMcLean, called him one of my boys as he sent him on the way to fame.
The tragedy of yesterdays events struck the ex-manager harder than most in thegame as ODonnell becomes the second of his 1991 Scottish Cup Final team to passaway after Davie Cooper died, aged 39, in 1995 from a brain haemorrhage.
Like Cooper, ODonnell was an outstanding talent in his chosen position. WhileCooper was a winger with mesmerising skills, though, ODonnell was anall-action, dynamic midfield player who was described last night by formernational team boss Craig Brown as the Scottish Steven Gerrard of his day.
ODonnell was a successful product of the famed Bobby Jenks youth-developmentsystem at Motherwell and was handed a debut at the age of 17 by McLean,unusually in the leftleftposition. I gave him his debut against St Mirren as aleft-back, recalled McLean.
Kenny McDowall gave him a hard time but the reason I did that was because Iwanted him to toughen up and I actually played him at centrecentreas well earlyon. I always knew that hed be a central midfield player but I wanted him to getstronger.
He certainly became stronger, growing into the most exciting young footballerin the country and entered Motherwell folklore as a 19-year-old when scoringthe third goal in their dramatic 4-3 Scottish Cup Final success at HampdenPark.
ODonnell kept on stamping his name over club history, for he then became theyoungest player to represent the club in European competition when contesting aCup Winners Cup tie against Katowice of Poland the following season.
Scotland bosses could not help but notice what he could offer his country andCraig Brown made him the cen-trepiece of the Under-21 team that is rated as thebest the nation has ever produced, making the semi-finals of the EuropeanChampionships of 1992 before losing out by just one goal to Sweden.
At this time, he was the best Under-21 player around no question, said Brown.
He was the original box-to-box midfielder, so dynamic. He was like the StevenGerrard of Scotland and everyone loved him.
He was brilliant for the Under-21s in the best Under-21 team that Scotland hasever produced. …