PERHAPS the biggest tribute paid to Andy Goram is the fact he is known as The Goalie, but yesterday that was topped by Manchester United.

The biggest club in the UK and recently revealed as the richest in the world, want him to help them out as they head into the Champions League quarter-finals. For a 36-year-old it is a remarkable testament to his talents.

It is all the more remarkable when it is recalled that in the autumn of 1998 he was scratching about in places like Nottingham, with County, and Sheffield, with United, trying to resurrect his career.

Andy Goram may have been born in Bury, but he takes a bit of burying.

Rangers were his major love, of course, and when they decided enough was enough, presumably not on the basis of any declining skill but on the excesses that dogged his off-field lifestyle.

In the summer of that same year, 1998, The Goalie reached his lowest point to date.

He has readily confessed to a deep bitterness at that time, after seven years in the Ibrox dressing room.

It was his conviction that he still had many good seasons left in him at his favourite place, but the new broom, Dick Advocaat, was sweeping away the old and bringing in the new. Andy was one of many who were sent off to ply their trade elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the sensationalism that had accompanied his years in Scotland, allied to the decision to walk out of the Scotland World Cup squad in France days before the start of the competition, had a salutary effect on clubs who may have been keen on his services.

The consequence was he ended up playing a game for Notts County in the English second division, stayed for a short spell on trial with Sheffield United, and was on the point of signing for Ayr United when Motherwell stepped in to keep him in the Scottish premier League and, indeed, made him captain of the team.

Nothing he has done since has indicated that the brilliance of his shot-stopping has diminished, and, while some of us felt that Motherwell should make an exception in their cut-back policy by offering him a new contract, he seemed destined to go elsewhere at the end of the season.

Now, that destiny has come to pass earlier as The Goalie finds himself at Old Trafford, where few would bet against him convincing Sir Alex Ferguson that he is worth a longer contract than a short-term run until the summer.

It would be a fitting climax to an amazing and colourful career on the field, and a controversial, sometimes sleazy, headline-stealing private life, especially as it would be back in the same county, Lancashire, where it began for him.

After being signed as a schoolboy and then released by West Brom, he was signed for Oldham Athletic by Scot Jimmy Frizell in 1981; he nearly ended up playing for England, even though his dad had been a Hibee, when chosen for the English Under 21 squad but not selected for the team.

Happily for him and Scotland, Jock Stein came along to make sure he became a tartan player, and he went on to win 42 caps, including in his travels World Cup finals in Mexico, where he was third choice, in 1986, and Italy, where he was second choice, in 1990.

He was, however, first choice in the European Championships of 1992 and again, when amid much controversy, he was selected ahead of Jim Leighton, in Euro96.

It was Hibs, the club of his dad, who brought him to Scotland in 1987 for what was a considerable fee for a goalkeeper then, #325,000, and four superb years there were followed by the #1m move to Rangers, where he had a nervy start but went on to hit the kind of form that forced one Celtic manager, Tommy Burns, to declare that The Goalie's name would be on his gravestone.

Goram, who won six championship medals with Rangers, also was chosen as Scotland's Player-of-the-Year in 1993 and established himself as one of the best goalkeepers to wear a Scotland shirt.

All along the way, his career was peppered with incidents that left his manager, Walter Smith, trying hard not to tear his hair out, followed by the hair of The Goalie. He was fined on at least two publicised occasions for indiscipline by the manager and on one of them was also stuck on the transfer list.

Off the field, he was the subject of a variety of lurid front-page tales about his lifestyle, while he had to deny accusations of connections with loyalist terrorists, once when in an Old Firm game he wore a black armband which was alleged to be a tribute to murdered terrorist Billy Wright, and again, when with Motherwell, after a newspaper picture showed him posing with loyalists.

The resilience of the man saw him through the lot, even the scars he carried from the humiliation of being dumped by Rangers.

A man who likes the racing game and a man with an impish sense of humour, Andy Goram has plenty to regret about some episodes in his sporting life but, between the posts, he was and remains, as Manchester United have proved, a genuine master of his craft.

Andy Goram

Born: Bury

Date of birth: 13/4/64

Height: 5ft 11.5in

Weight: 13st

International caps: 42

Fabien Barthez

Born: Lavelanet

Date of Birth: 28/6/71

Height: 5ft 11in

Weight: 12st 8lb

International caps: 41

lBoth keepers were born into a sporting family. Goram's dad played for

Hibernian, while Barthez's father was a top-class rugby player.

l While Goram is no stranger to the newspapers' front pages, Barthez is big news himself back home in France. A cover story on the goalkeeper in Paris Match magazine sold 1.1m copies, with only the deaths of Francois Mitterand and Princess Diana shifting more.

l Both are pretty adept at other sports, with Goram a former international cricketer, while Barthez's favourite past-time is motor-rallying.

l They share a love of animals, too. Goram has two pigmy goats in his farmhouse, aptly named Gin and Tonic, and Barthez has been known to go swimming with dolphins.

l Goram and Barthez played against each other at club level back in season 1992-93, when Rangers were drawn in the same Champions League group as Marseille. Both matches were drawn - 2-2 at Ibrox and 1-1 at the Stede Velodrome.

Andy Goram Factfile

1964: Born in Bury, April 13.

1980: Signed schoolboy forms with West Brom, but released.

1981: Signed for Oldham. Makes first team debut against Charlton and keeps clean sheet.

1984: Selected for England Under 21 squad, but not picked. Misses half of season with knee injury.

1986: First Scotland cap as sub in friendly 0-0 draw with East Germany. Hampden crowd sings ''You're not English any more.'' Goes to Mexico World Cup as Scotland's third-choice keeper.

1987: Moves to Hibs for #325,000.

1988: Scores against Morton on last day of the season with huge kick-out.

1989: Completes ever-present league record for Hibs and attracts interest from other clubs.

1990: Selected for World Cup Finals' squad in Italy, where he is second choice to Jim Leighton.

1991: Joins Rangers in #1m deal.

1992: Collects first medals at Rangers, winning a championship,a Scottish Cup and a Skol Cup. Also Scotland's first-choice at Euro 92.

1993: Outstanding as Rangers miss out by a whisker on reaching Champions League Final. Collects another hat-trick of domestic medals and SPFA Player of Year award. Knee injury keeps him out of first seven months of season 93/94.

1994: Returns for eight games at the end of term 93/94 to help team collects sixth successive title. Put on transfer list by Walter Smith, citing problems of weight and attitude. Wins reprieve and returns to top form.

1995: Stuns Scotland by declaring himself ''not mentally attuned'' for Euro 96 qualifier.

1996: Returns for Euro 96 finals. Helps Rangers to eighth title in a row, a Scottish Cup and a Coca-Cola Cup.

1997: Injury strikes again to rule him out of the club clinching nine-in-a-row.

1998: Axed by Rangers after eight glorious seasons as Dick Advocaat clears out old guard. Walks out of Scotland squad ahead of World Cup in France. Threatens to retire.

1999: Motherwell rescue his career and make him captain.

2000: Announces he will quit Fir Park. Subject of stunning offer from Manchester United.