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Alan Groves: The Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo That Never Was?

There was once a man who never played in the top-flight of English football, and sadly didn’t live to see his 30th birthday.

Not so special it seems, but from the many glowing accounts this man received, he is truly the greatest player that never was—a man who could’ve been the modern-day equivalent of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Alan Groves, 1970’s winger and playboy, has been hailed as the real greatest player you never saw.

Having been at the height of his football career when playing for the likes of Oldham Athletic, Bournemouth, and Shrewbury Town, Groves was a player whose talents never reached far beyond the shores of England.

But as one writer wrote for the Oldham Evening Chronicle in late 1975, “For my money, he’s probably the best orthodox outside-left in the Football League.

“He can take on and beat opponents, he is completely without fear, and possesses that rare quality of the star entertainers.

“It would be a great pity if Groves were not given a chance to prove himself at international level before the next World Cup.

“I am firmly convinced that with Groves, England would be a vastly more entertaining side and considerably more effective.

“I hope that someone, somewhere will tell Don Revie [then England manager] to take a look at the magical Alan Groves.”

Unfortunately, nobody ever told Don Revie to take a look at Groves, and the winger sadly died before getting the chance to play at the 1978 World Cup.

Had someone mentioned the talented Alan Groves to Revie, the former Blackpool winger could well have been the greatest player everyone had heard of.

But instead, it’s up to fans, journalists and players alike from the past to recall such outstanding performances the young Groves produced.

One such player who was teammates with Groves is a very familiar face in world football, and is the man who currently manages Champions League hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Redknapp.

Redknapp was teammates with Alan Groves at Bournemouth, and sheds light on just how talented this wing wizard was.

He labels his former teammate “the strongest, quickest, most skilful player I’ve ever seen.

“He was something else, this fella. It was frightening how much talent he had.”

Cristiano Ronaldo will forever remain in the memories of Manchester United and Real Madrid fans, as will Lionel Messi with Barcelona faithful at the Nou Camp.

And over 30 years after his death, the talents of Alan Groves are vividly remembered by Oldham Athletic fans.

One fan remembers Groves back in 1975, and the affinity he had with the supporters.

The Latics fan said, “We were playing West Brom, and Groves came to take a corner. He placed the ball in the quadrant, turned to us young kids who used to stand right at the front of the Rochdale End and said, ‘Just watch where I put this one’.

“And his corner kick sailed towards the goal before rolling along almost the full length of the crossbar and landing on top of the net. He turned back to us, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Better luck next time’.”

The same fan remembers two more fascinating Alan Groves moments of note in 1975.

“Against Charlton, the keeper Chris Ogden rolled the ball out to Groves, who was just outside the [Oldham] penalty area. He ran down the left wing, but reaching the halfway line faced two Charlton players, one on the touchline, the other about five yards behind the first one.

“Groves stopped and put his foot on the ball. The Charlton player on the touchline seemed hesitant to approach, but then Groves passed the ball to him.

“And as the player turned round to give the ball to his teammate, Groves sprinted between the pair of them, regained possession and continued with his dash down the left.”

But if you thought that was some incredible trickery which even £80million star Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t do, wait until you read this one.

This fan continued, “In a home match against Bristol City, Grovesy had been terrorising the Bristol defence, nutmegging them and everything.

“Anyway, he received the ball on the wing, bore down upon goal with the City players in pursuit when he suddenly stopped dead, bent down, and pretended to tie his bootlaces.

“Ernie Hunt, the Bristol guy who’s come to tackle him was so stunned he didn’t react or try to nick the ball off him.

“Grovesy just stood up again and went past him before firing in a shot from 20 yards.”

A truly magnificent football player it would appear, described by journalists as an “entertainer, artist and soccer star supreme”, it came as no surprise when the big time came calling.

A £30,000 bid from First Division side Arsenal arrived in 1976, but it was rejected by Oldham, who understandably wanted to keep hold of their star player.

Having read the glowing accounts of Groves, it makes you wonder: How great would the name Alan Groves have been in world football had he been signed by Arsenal and someone told the England manager of his talent?

Source: Yousaff Farah, Senior Writer, FourFourTwo Magazine