An extremely talented and versatile player, Paul was plagued by injuries throughout his career and was eventually forced into retirement after having 14 operations during a five-year battle against a cruciate ligament injury. Paul earned several England U21 caps and would certainly have gone on to win full international recognition had it not been for his horrendous injury problems.
Paul signed for City as an apprentice professional on 1st June 1985 from his local club Blue Star and went on to help City win their first ever F.A. Youth Cup the following season, scoring City's goal in the first leg of the final against neighbours Manchester United at Old Trafford. He progressed rapidly through the ranks under Mel Machin and made his first team début against Wimbledon on New Year's Day 1987, a goalless draw. His classy midfield displays, showing remarkable composure on the ball and an elegance rarely seen in one so young didn't go unnoticed by the England management and he gained U21 and "B" honours in 1988. It was during this period that Paul's injuries started to appear. It seemed to be that almost every time he was named in an England U21 squad he'd pick up a slight knock and be ruled out.
A potentially more serious injury occurred in a match against Leicester City in 1989 when he swallowed his tongue following a clash of heads with a defender. Twenty thousand people watched in silence as Roy Bailey raced to save his life. Lake helped City win promotion that season and was himself promoted to club captain the following year when Howard Kendall took over as City manager. His career was moving quickly; he was named in Bobby Robson's provisional squad for the World Cup in Italy and was awarded a five-year contract by City. Kendall recognised his superb vision and excellent timing of tackles and installed him as sweeper for the 1990/91 season. However, in September 1990 he twisted his knee in a game against Aston Villa, the injury which would eventually end his career as a player.
At first the injury was diagnosed as a slight twist which would keep him out for a fortnight but it turned out to be ruptured cruciate ligament and it was two years before he turned out for the first team again, in City's first ever Premier League game against Q.P.R. at Maine Road. Appearing to a hero's welcome, he played as if the injury had never happened and it seemed that his career was back on course. However, eight minutes into the following game at Middlesbrough the ligament snapped again. He wasn't giving up though and flew to the U.S.A. to have an operation which transplanted a donor's achilles tendon in place of the troublesome ligament. However, the knee joint itself had become so damaged over the previous years that painful inflammation occurred whenever he tried playing football. After 14 operations and with the prospect of another one looming, Paul announced his retirement as a player in January 1996. He had played a total of 130 league and cup games for City but will live forever in the memories of those who saw him play.
Paul was later employed by City as an assistant to physiotherapist Roy Bailey and also posessed a regular cloumn in the matchday programme. He married long-time girlfriend Lisa Johnson (pictured with Paul, above) on 27th May 1995.
Howard Kendall, who made Lake captain during his brief spell in charge at Maine Road in 1990, described his premature retirement as 'a tragedy'. Kendall, now manager of Sheffield United, claimed: 'I used to ask for £10 million when clubs asked about him but that was in the days when clubs couldn't afford that sort of money.'
'I'd be frightened to put a price on his head these days - he could have gone all the way to the top if he had stayed injury-free. Paul was as good a young player as I've ever worked with. It's a tragedy he has had to retire without being able to prove to people how good he was.'
'He has worked hard to get himself going again. The fact that he has battled for so long shows how determined he was. He was good in the air, strong, brave and quick - he had everything and because he was so versatile, he was used in a lot of different positions.'
Bournemouth manager Mel Machin, who preceded Kendall as City boss and first encountered Lake in the outstanding Maine Road youth team, agreed: 'He looked the all-round player, which is unusual for a lad so young. He had a great arrogance - he was in control of what he did. Without question, he is the best young player I have ever worked with.'
Tony Book, City's first-team coach and former manager who helped sign Lake, said: 'It's a sickening blow for Paul and the club. It's always sad when a player is forced to retire, but when you're cut down in your prime it's especially heartbreaking. You would class Paul in the top bracket. I always likened him to Colin Bell - he had that great ability to get up and down the park.'
Former England Under-21 and B international Lake revealed: 'I wanted to pull on the blue shirt of City at least one more time. The club has been my life since I was 10 years old, when I was a young fan, and has been my way of life for the last 11 years.'
'I have tried hard to get my fitness back but it wasn't to be. I am devastated. It's not quite sunk in yet that it really is all over for me as a Manchester City player. I have to be a realist now. I can't go on. I am told I will need more surgery on my knee. I am just gutted.'
PAUL'S PERSONAL MESSAGE TO ALL CITY FANS
As most of you are aware, on Friday 5th January I reluctantly announced my retirement from football after a long struggle against injury. Since that day I have been touched and overwhelmed by all the letters and messages of goodwill that I have received fron City supporters and I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. The support that you have given me over the last five years has been amazing, and it is encouragement like this which has made my decision to retire even harder to bear. The fact that I have never once felt like the 'forgotten man' of City is a testament to the faith and patience shown by fans, as well as various players and managers who have supported me all along the way.
I'd like to also extend a very special thank-you to Tudor and Steve Thomas who have sponsored me over the years and have both been a great source of strength.
I think it's important for me to briefly explain what events led to my decision to retire. First of all, I need to stress that it was never a case of 'knowing all along' that the injury would eventually defeat me. Despite the numerous operations and a succession of setbacks I was always geared up for a return to the game, and until very recently the possibility was always there. However, whilst training over the Christmas period my knee began to swell badly and became incredibly painful. I went to hospital to have it checked out, and the X-ray revealed alarming results. I was shocked to be informed that my shinbone was bending to such an extent that I'd have to undergo a serious operation to rectify it, and I was effectively told by the surgeon there and then that it would be in my best interests to quit football.
The past couple of weeks have been like a blur to me, a mixture of regret and resignation as I finally come to terms with the fact that my playing days are over. However, it's not all doom and gloom; I'm remaining optimistic for the future and am already planning to get myself involved in football on the medical side of things. The Chairman has also kindly allowed me a testimonial game sometime this year which will be the ideal occasion for me to thank you all en masse.
Although things may not have worked out as planned, I will still look back on my career at City with affection and will try to remember the good times I spent at Maine Road rather than all the operations and rehabilitation. I was a proud Manchester Ciy fan even before I started playing for the Club, and that's something that will never change. Even though I am no longer with City, I will still look forward to cheering on the lads in blue for many years to come.
Kind regards to you all,