It's hard to stem the flow of superlatives when describing the talent of Liam Brady.
'Chippy' had everything a midfielder could want - skill, vision, balance, strength, a powerful shot and the ability to glide past opponents at will. Like all great players he always had time on the ball and almost always chose the right option. On a football pitch, Brady's brain and feet worked in perfect harmony.
|Arsenal Career||1971 - 1980|
|Appearances||307 (295 starts, 12 as a sub)|
Cesc Fabregas deserves all the plaudits he gets but, as Arsenal fans of a certain age will testify, the precocious Spaniard has some way to go to emulate Brady. The Irishman was the cleverest playmaker of his generation and, rather like Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup, he could make a mediocre team a potent one.
Brady's ability was evident from the moment he joined Arsenal on schoolboy forms in 1970. He turned professional on his 17th birthday in 1973 and Bertie Mee wasted no time in blooding Highbury's most talented teenager. In October of that year, Brady came off the bench to replace Jeff Blockley and make his debut against Birmingham City.
In those early days Brady learned valuable lessons from his first midfield partner, the World Cup winner Alan Ball. And when Ball left - having joined forces with Brady to guide Arsenal away from relegation trouble - Brady assumed the mantle of midfield master. And how.
Brady scaled new heights following the appointment of Terry Neill as manager and the return of Don Howe as coach. And as the likes of Malcolm Macdonald and Frank Stapleton gorged on chances conjured up by Brady, Arsenal emerged from their mid-Seventies slump to reach three successive FA Cup Finals between 1978 and 1980.
The second of those prompted one of Brady's finest performance in an Arsenal shirt. The Irishman tore Manchester United to ribbons at Wembley, setting up first-half goals for Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton. Then, after United hauled themselves level with two late goals, Brady dug deep to launch one final surge into opposition territory. His pass to Graham Rix forced the left winger to accelerate and cross. Alan Sunderland was on the end of it and the rest is history.
Brady was at the peak of his powers that season - remember his vicious curling effort in the 5-0 drubbing at Tottenham? - and, as he collected the PFA Player of the Year award, Arsenal looked primed for honours in the years to come. But then Brady dropped his bombshell: he would leave Highbury for Juventus at the end of the 1979/80 campaign.
Ironically, the highlight of the Irishman's final season was a famous aggregate victory over the Old Lady in the European Cup Winners' Cup Semi-Finals. Brady went out with a whimper rather than a bang - he missed in the Final shoot-out against Valencia - while Arsenal's fans were left in mourning for their departed talisman.
Typically, Brady rose to his new challenge, winning two Serie A titles with Juventus. But while the Irishman illuminated Italy, Arsenal struggled. After all, how do you replace the man who made you tick? Terry Neill never found the answer and Arsenal would not win another trophy until 1987.
These days, of course, Brady is back at Arsenal as the Club's Head of Youth Development, charged with spotting and nurturing a new generation of talent. For any aspiring young player, there can be few better mentors than 'Chippy' himself.