Liverpool could have had him for nothing

Liverpool splashed out £4.5million to secure the services of Jason McAteer from Bolton - five years ago they could have had him for next-to-nothing.

The 24-year-old Birkenhead-born midfielder escaped the net and played in Sunday football before joining Marine and progressing into the league with Bolton.

But his football heart has always remained at Anfield - and there was no contest when they declared their interest,despite stiff competition from champions Blackburn.

"This is a dream-come-true for me," he said. "I have been waiting for this day all my life. It came to a football decision in the end and that is why I chose Liverpool."

Manager Roy Evans now has an array of midfield talent that must be the envy of every Premiership club in the country. McAteer faces stiff competition from John Barnes, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp, who were on England duty last night.

Evans, who would not be drawn on whether McAteer will make his debut at Wimbledon, said: "We cannot guarantee Jason a first team place. But obviously I have confidence in his ability or I would not be spending that kind of money on him. We have been chasing him for the past two years and have had to be patient. It is marvellous from my point of view that another top player has chosen to come to this club. That shows how far we have come in two years. It is also a reflection of the type of football we play, not just at senior level, but right through from the youth team."

Marine, meanwhile, are hoping to reap some benefit from the move. As McAteer was a non-contract player at the Unibond League club, where he picked up £30 a week, they are not entitled to any sell-on fee. However chairman Tom Culshaw said: "Liverpool are under no formal obligation to make a payment to us but they might feel a moral obligation. We need £300,000 to help in ground redevelopment and that is a lot of money to find for a small club like ours. A contribution from Liverpool would be appreciated."

McAteer joined the Merseyside non-League club in 1990 after being spotted playing Sunday league football on the Wirral. But it would not have surprised anyone had McAteer laced up gloves instead of boots as he came from a famous boxing family - his uncle Pat McAteer was a British champion.

Under the guidance of Marine manager Roly Howard, now in his 23rd season in charge of the first team, McAteer made good progress in his one and a half seasons at the club.

The young midfielder, however, was still unsure he had a future in the game and spent the close season of 1991 searching for a football scholarship in the United States. He was unsuccessful, returned to Marine and knuckled down with so much effect he was snapped up by Phil Neal, then the manager at Bolton, in January 1992.

Everton were also interested in taking him on trial but McAteer opted for Burnden Park instead. The grateful third division club sent a £1,000 donation.

Now he is ready to take his place in the Liverpool side alongside another non-league millionaire, striker Stan Collymore. The £8.5million British record signing had a spell at Stafford before moving to Crystal Palace, Southend and then Nottingham Forest.

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