Steve McManaman was known in his youth as a great prospect who could use his feet either to dribble a ball or sprint on running tracks. His speed ensured he would stay ahead of the pack. Making it in professional football was a daunting prospect for a local lad raised in Kirkdale. LFChistory.net was lucky enough to spend a weekend with him and his lovely family recently and we sat down for a good chat about his exceptional career. First of all I was curious about an article from 1982 that I came across during my research.
I was very good at cross-country. It was just genes, luck, genetics. I started running at school and I won every single race. I started running for the year above me, winning all the races. I joined the Liverpool Harriers to be an athlete where I went once or twice midweek but then I just thought that this wasn’t for me. I was excellent at running but it wasn’t a team sport and I didn’t enjoy it. I used to get really nervous. You’re on your own and I was expected to win. I felt I was letting people down if I didn’t win. I focused then everything just on the football side. I totally enjoyed football.
Newspaper article from 17 April 1982
My father was an amateur footballer in Liverpool and he played on a Saturday and on a Sunday. From the age I could walk I would be there with him. I would sit in the dressing room while they were changing and watch him play football. I would go to the pub and sit with his friends afterwards. Quarter to five or five o'clock on a Saturday evening we would get the local newspaper, the pink Echo, where you got the football reports about Liverpool and Everton. That was my upbringing in football in the city of Liverpool in the late 70s and when I became a teenager in the 80s. The city of Liverpool was a very hard place to live. The one thing that kept us alive was the football. Everton and Liverpool were the best teams in England by a country mile. Every single season either one of the teams was at Wembley.
The first time I went to Wembley, I went with my father when Everton played Watford and they won 2-0 in 1984. I thought it was the greatest day of my life. I played football in my spare time. Everyone I knew played football. Very early on I knew I could play and I just progressed through the school I went to, St. John’s Infants and St. John’s Juniors. Campion was my senior school. I played for Liverpool Boys in their under-11s, under-14s and then under-15s. I played a year above me.
The Liverpool Boys squad in 1985/86.
McManaman starred for the "Terrific" Pacific team in the Walton and Kirkdale Junior League from the age of eight until his early teens. As an adolescent he was considered good enough to feature for Liverpool Boys, representing his city, but he wasn't chosen for the Merseyside team (local papers thought he deserved a spot) and national recognition seemed unlikely. Lilleshall, the Football Association's School of Excellence for boys 14-16 years of age in Shropshire, was a gateway to international honours and to becoming a professional footballer in its 15 years of existence from 1984 to 1999. Steven Gerrard didn't make the final 16 who were the chosen ones each year like Jamie Carragher (who described his stay there as the best two years of his life) and Michael Owen.
I hated it when I went to Lilleshall. These trials. I wasn’t good enough to pass the trials at the time to get in. I didn’t get into even the last 60. I was very homesick. I was more than happy not to get chosen. To be away from my parents at the age of 14 at that school at Lilleshall, I would have hated it.
England honours had to wait but a number of clubs had their eye on the lad as Jim Aspinall, who was Liverpool's chief youth scout, recalled: "I remember coming across Steve aged 10. He was playing wide on both flanks, going past players and getting his crosses over. He had an air of confidence around him and showed a lot of flair. All the top clubs, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United were chasing him." Four years after first spotting him, it was time for Aspinall to make his move.
I was highly wanted by a number of teams in England but I was never ever going to leave home. Not at that age. So it was always going to be either Everton or Liverpool. I would have cried my eyes out if I had left home. Jim Aspinall showed me around Anfield. I knew my way around as I had been there many times before watching football matches. He led me into a room and sitting at the end of the table was Kenny Dalglish. He sat me down and told me and my father that he wanted me to play for Liverpool. It was mesmerising really. Kenny was a superstar at the time and the manager. He was too busy knowing every 14-year-old kid. He’d been primed by Aspinall who had told him that we want to sign him up and could you make it a bit special. Kenny had a pair of football boots at the bottom of his desk. In a day when all football boots were black with white stripes these had gold on them and were white. I’d never seen a pair like that before. Must have been a special pair made for him that was match-worn. He just said: 'You can have them.' I was like: 'Are you sure?' 'Yeah, take them.' I was size four and they were size eight or something. As we walked out of the door, my father went: 'You have to sign for Liverpool.'
When I was an apprentice I had to work in the reception at Liverpool, sending letters. I cleaned the Kop. I had to wash the kits, pump the balls. It's classed as child labour now. I cleaned John Barnes’ boots which was a an honour. I thought he was an incredible footballer. It was an incredible time. I had players within my team who had played for England youth teams. My first year as being an apprentice I was very small. They were like men at 15 but at 15 I was still a boy. There were people quicker than me and stronger than me. When I reached puberty I caught up with them all in my second year. I overtook the people who had been ahead of me. I shot past them. I was as quick as them and as strong as them but I could play football and that was the only saving grace for me.
I was 16 in 1988 and was training with the first team. The team was successful and I was training with them all the time. That helped me enormously because they were the best around at that time. If you can’t improve when training with the very best you’re not going to make it as a footballer. It was the acid test and I absolutely adored it. To train with the likes of Barnesy, I was lucky. When you train with Steve McMahon, Alan Hansen, Ronnie Whelan you can’t help but learn from them.
Ten stone two lbs McManaman lines up at Anfield in 1990 for the annual photoshoot
Only two Liverpool schoolboys had made the grade at the Reds in recent history: Sammy Lee and Gary Ablett. The odds were against it. McManaman starred in the club's youth teams and made his reserve debut on 1 November 1988 at Sheffield Wednesday in front of 1,650 people. Wayne Harrison was Liverpool’s scorer in a 1-1 draw in a team that included Nicky Tanner, Alex Watson, Jim Magilton, Mike Marsh and Jim Beglin. Two substitute appearances for the reserves followed that campaign. In the 1990/91 season when Liverpool were defending their league title, McManaman and Ronnie Rosenthal were the main goalscorers for the reserve 11. Shortly after his 18th birthday, McManaman signed his first professional contract for the club on 19 February 1990.
The reserve team played in a really hard league. If you didn’t play for the first team in the starting eleven you played in the reserves, which consisted of brilliant Liverpool players who had just won the league but couldn’t get into the eleven. You were playing against superstars footballers, like Bryan Robson who was recovering from injury. I was ten stone initially which was nothing. I was ok because I was always getting out of challenges. I could ride challenges or jump over them. You got a lot of experienced pros saying: 'You fucking take me on again and make me look foolish, I’ll do this or do that.' It never bothered me. I was from Liverpool and I’d seen it all before.
Macca had caught the attention of Lawrie McMenemy, the former Southampton boss and then coach of the England U-21s. It was considered unusual for a player who still hadn’t made his first-team debut to be chosen for the England U-21 squad, more so for a player who had never represented his country. “If he was with a lower division club he would probably be in their first team now. He’s an 18-year-old Liverpool reserve. But if Kevin Keegan had been an 18-year-old at Liverpool, he probably would have been in the reserves, but he was an 18-year-old at Scunthorpe," McMenemy concluded. Macca started in a goalless draw against Wales at Prenton Park in Birkenhead on 5 December 1990, alongside most notably Alan Shearer. “There’s more fat on a chip than there is on Steve,” McMenemy quipped after witnessing his England debut at any age level, not knowing this would become a famous phrase that Macca remembers vividly. The “highly-rated striker” as he was referred to in the local papers said: “It was a real shock to get called up. It's nice to be noticed in the Pontins league.” Kenny Dalglish knew what he had in store in his reserves: “It doesn't surprise me. I think he could come through and make it.”
Ten days after his international recognition, McManaman made his first-team debut against bottom side Sheffield United at Anfield. He came on for Peter Beardsley, who tore his ankle ligaments, in the 80th minute in a 2-0 win. Kenny Dalglish, who had signed the youngster for Liverpool, resigned in February and Souness’ reign began. Two more substitute appearances for Macca followed before the season was out. He was often included in the matchday squad, but only two substitutes were allowed for each game, so he missed out on being on the bench. McManaman was fully involved in the pre-season tour of Scandinavia before the 1991/92 season and was a starter in the first game of the season, against Oldham Athletic at Anfield. Mark Wright, Dean Saunders and Mark Walters all played their first game and Ian Rush was out injured so Macca was up front in the number nine shirt, so no pressure…
The Sunday Times was impressed by McManaman's full debut: "The boy fizzes and pops, readily running from the half-way line in youthful bursts. But this was meaningless until Ablett, and Whelan, and others from Liverpool's established brotherhood began accepting that such stuff was worth a return pass, worth even perhaps some support and a run off the ball. For all that Liverpool's midfield is an ill-matched hotch potch, it only took a raising of the gears in such manner to change the game's direction." Tommy Smith who had a weekly column in the Echo had been a teammate of Dave McManaman, Steve's dad, in Kirkdale under-11s (we used to call him "Yanna" Smith revealed). He was delighted with the son of his old teammate following his full debut. "McManaman repaid his manager's faith in him. He held the line well, took people on and showed a lot of confidence." McManaman claimed an assist for Barnes' winner in the 78th minute in front of the Kop. A ringing endorsement from Souness followed post-match: "He has the chance to be one of the great players." A rare flying header for McManaman from a Mike Marsh cross only proved to be a consolation in a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City four days later that proved costly as a Achilles tendon injury in John Barnes' left foot required surgery and sidelined him until January. Injuries for key players forced Souness to make a lot more changes than he had envisaged. It was hoped that young stars like McManaman, Mike Marsh and Steve Harkness would become a firm fixture in the team.
It was a strange season. Graeme had a heart operation and sold his story to the Sun. He changed the diet that was needed. Graeme got rid of a lot of the experienced players too quickly and too many. He probably thinks so himself. We were left a bit short then and we had to play a lot of the younger players. It’s alright bringing one or two in but once you bring in four, five in the team that is when you start to struggle. The ones he brought in weren’t that particular type of Liverpool player. Sometimes signings work and sometimes they don’t. If the signings don’t work at a transitional period, the team starts to fall a little bit.
Liverpool had a successful run in the FA Cup and McManaman had a star turn in the fourth round replay against Bristol Rovers at Anfield in February. He scored from from a solo run after cutting in from the right and hitting the ball with his left. Then he set up the winner for Dean Saunders after another scintillating run. The Reds had a special boy in their ranks.
Liverpool reached the final at Wembley that McManaman almost missed because of injury.
I got carried off in the semi-final against Portsmouth at Highbury. We played a behind closed doors game in pre-season and I dislocated my knee-cap as I turned with the ball, one of the players hit me. It was a freak accident. My knee popped up in the air. I got carried off and had an operation. It came out again in the semi-final. I got carried off. I thought that was it. We subsequently beat Portsmouth in the replay. We’re in the final. I don’t carry much weight so I knew my fitness levels were going to be ok. It was just whether my knee would recover in time. I did my rehab and did whatever I could. Eventually Barnesy got injured and that’s why I played. If Barnes would have been fit, I wouldn’t have played. I played in a reserve game a couple of days before the final.
Sunderland's defenders fell prey to McManaman's skills as he provided the platform for Michael Thomas' tremendous goal at the start of the second half in the FA Cup final. The youngster came of age at Wembley and John Barnes singled him out for praise: "He played very well today, but I had no qualms about that because he is the fittest player at the club," Barnes said. "For me, he was the man of the match. He's always been a good dribbler and now he's conscious of people around him and how to bring them into the game. Crossing may not be his strongest point, but too many people try to find the perfect player. He appears to be frail, but that is deceptive. There are a lot of good players around but no one is more exciting than him.''
The Wembley win must have catapulted you to fame..
That was never my scene. I’d always lived in Liverpool. From the age of 13-14 people knew I was a good football player. Me walking the streets was never a big thing. Of course we’d won the FA Cup which was a fantastic achievement for the fans and I remember going around the city on a bus which was amazing. When we finished the tour I still went back to Walton where I lived in a terraced house. I still woke up the next day and you were back to it again.
Peter Beardsley, Steve Staunton, Gary Gillespie, Steve McMahon, Gary Ablett and Glen Hysen were all shown the exit door in Souness’ first full season without replacing them adequately and a horror injury to John Barnes' right Achilles in the summer of 1992 was the end of his glory days on the left wing.
Liverpool had finished sixth with ten defeats in the league, 18 points behind Leeds who won the last first division title before the formation of the Premier League. McManaman had an impressive debut campaign, playing 51 games and scoring ten goals, willing to run with the ball at length on the right wing armed with an unbelievable stamina.
We won the league in 1990 and you had to carry on winning trophies. As soon as you walk into Anfield you’re hit with the history of it all. Me getting ten goals in 51 games... us not finishing high up in the league was the main issue for me. I might have had a good personal campaign but it didn’t necessarily interest me if the team had struggled. Losing Barnesy as the main runner of the team was difficult but you took his place as regards to carrying the ball up field for the team.
I was always a good runner. I was always a very good dribbler. Barnes ruptured his Achilles tendon which was an awful injury and is now but you can imagine how it was in the early 90s. It made him shift positions to central midfield. He was a wonderful player with the ball. Strong, very rarely lost the ball and was very clever with the ball. He adapted his play to become one of the best central midfielders around then.
Comparisons were made with Macca and Barnes as the youngster had to take on a greater responsibility, earlier than expected. I suggested to Macca that his style was more akin to Steve Heighway's, who had starred for Liverpool on the left wing in the 70s and was appointed Youth development Officer at Liverpool in 1989.
Steve was a typical left-winger who had a really good shake of the shoulders. The fact I knew him... I wasn’t an out and out dribbler and probably more like a Steve Heighway than a John Barnes dribbling. I used to drop and shake my shoulders a bit. I used to love watching Barnesy, Chris Waddle. I thought he had a great shake of the shoulders. If you stand someone up you go and shake your shoulder one way he will go the other way and it makes them go off balance.. [gets up to demonstrate]. Not many people do that anymore. Steve Heighway was of course in an era before Chrissy Waddle and he did exactly the same. He had a shake of the shoulders, had great movement and put people off balance. I probably did took a lot of that in the way I took people on. I could switch from the left to the right. It’s paramount now, you can’t be one-footed. Your trick can’t be shaking shoulders and go left. It’s too easy. I do think they do it too often now. I’d want Mo to go on his right foot more and Sadio on his left foot more. The fact they can change it around is the important thing. Lionel Messi likes to go on his left but he will also go on his right. Good players will switch it around, otherwise you’re one-dimensional. You won’t make it anymore.
McManaman with Iceland's national shirt. Image - Arnie for LFChistory.net
What were your weaknesses? I'm sure Ronnie Moran was more than happy to point them out as well as directing you through matches.
They were always barking orders at you. Ronnie used to tell me all the time: 'Stay out wide, put your feet on the whitewash.' 'Even though the ball is on the other side don’t worry about that. Their job is to get the ball to you and then you go at him, the left-back and beat him. Be patient.' Sometimes when people don’t get the ball for five minutes they start wandering. 'Stay there.' I knew I had to practice with my left foot. I wasn’t a good tackler. It wasn’t necessarily my job to tackle. I had to be better with my head.
An unsettled team, struggling for consistency didn't provide an ideal platform for McManaman to nurture his talent that was still raw. Tommy Smith argued in his Echo column in December 1992 that Steve needed a guiding light: "I know he's a great prospect but he can be as frustrating as he is exciting. He is always looking to get the ball under complete control before he does something with it. Sometimes you need a quicker reaction to catch out the opposition. I would like to see him mix it up with a few first-time balls." Souness lived on borrowed time as another underwhelming season came to a close in 1993. When Robbie Fowler made his first-team debut in September 1993, McManaman had effectively lost his place in the starting line-up following a bust up with Bruce Grobbelaar at Goodison Park after a poor clearance by the youngster that led to a goal. Macca was benched and any hope of a reprieve were dashed when he was carried off with a dislocated right knee in a reserve game against Notts County at Anfield. He was out for a couple of months but returned with a vengeance with two assists in a 3-2 win over QPR in December. McManaman still became a target of criticism from the terraces. Older Liverpool fans pointed out that he was a prime example of a local lad who was an easy target for abuse like Jackie Balmer, Jimmy Melia and even the ever-consistent Ian Callaghan had been. Constructive criticism came from Liverpool Echo's Ian Hargraves who concluded: "He does not get back nearly enough like his predecessors like Ian Callaghan, Jimmy Case and Ray Houghton." A back injury cut his season short in April.
The 1993/94 season only produced two goals for McManaman, in the third game of the season against bottom side Swindon Town. Macca was expected to go into double figures, but a local with a healthy appetite for goals had appeared on the scene and the pair soon became best friends and are still to this day. In the 1994/95 campaign, ten out of McManaman's twelve assists were for Robbie Fowler who had taken over as the team's main goalscorer from Ian Rush by netting 31 goals that season. When Roy Evans replaced Souness in the hotseat in 1994, McManaman was given a free role and no longer being tied to the wings inspired him to greater heights. Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 6-1 in the first game of the season and McManaman scored twice, his first goals in 363 days.
Click to enlarge this image from Tommy Smith's column 30 April 1994
I loved Roy. He was a great manager and just unlucky at times. When Graeme took over, Roy and Ronnie were there so there wasn’t a lot of change training wise. Doug Livermore came in with Roy. He brought a number of his own players in: Scalesy, Phil Babb, Stan… We changed formation under Evo, 5-3-2. I had a bit more freedom at the tip of the triangle in midfield with Barnesy, and/or Jamie Redknapp and Michael Thomas. I could literally play wherever I felt the space would be, left or right or centre. I could drift. I had the security of the two midfielders and the three central defenders. The wing-back less so because one attacked, while the other one stayed. I could always get back and help wherever I was on the pitch.
The League Cup was won for the fifth time, McManaman scoring both goals with another man of the match performance at Wembley, which many consider his best ever for the club.
We needed to win another trophy after Graeme leaving and Roy coming in. Bolton were in a lower division to us so we had to win it. I scored a couple of goals that was brilliant. To win a trophy for my team was all I cared about really. When we were knocked out of competitions I was distraught. Looking back at clips of that game I must have had about hundred shots. They were flying everywhere, over the bar, flying over there. Thankfully two of them went into the back of the net.
McManaman’s brilliant solo goal where he started from the left flank in the middle of the pitch and just eased his way past two and passed it into the far corner prompted Kevin Keegan telling the worldwide audience and commentator Brian Moore:
“That is just sheer class, Brian. There is no other word for it. This guy is having the time of his life out there on the Wembley pitch.”
In the 1995/96 season, McManaman flourished and followed in the footsteps of Kenny Dalglish to reach twenty assists in a season (no Liverpool has achieved that feat since, but Stig Inge Björnebye and Bobby Firmino have come closest with 17). The Liverpool team was on the right track and McManaman provided five goals for new striker Stan Collymore as well as seven for his favourite, Fowler who scored 36 goals as he was at the height of his powers. Liverpool were still lacking the consistency and guile to reach the top. League champions Manchester United recognised the dangerman in their rival's team when they faced each other in the FA Cup final and acted accordingly as the Sunday Times noted: "United packed the midfield, shackling Keane and Butt in the deep and drawing in the wingers, Beckham and Giggs, to deny McManaman the space in which to undermine them, as he had done in both the League games between the two teams. No matter that the front men lacked support. The end justified the means. Liverpool, for their part, were left without plan B when McManaman was stymied."
Manchester United weren't the first team that had tried to stifle McManaman and teams went to great lengths to stop him.
A player from Middlesbrough was just standing there wherever I was. The ball was elsewhere and I pointed it out to him. 'The ball is over there.' He said: 'I've been told to follow you.' Ok, no problem. When I moved off the ball, he would be pulling my shirt and after so many times I took the shirt off and said: 'You can have it'.
At the end of the 1995/96 season, it was revealed that Liverpool had knocked back a Barcelona move for McManaman, who responded in the press and said that he’d signed a long-term contract at the start of that very campaign and clubs interested “are wasting their time.” Those who read McManaman's weekly column in The Times were fully aware of his desire to move abroad one day: "I am excited to be involved in European competition. The tradition at Anfield is immensely strong, and I enjoy the challenge of different styles of play. Much has been said about me one day playing in Italy, and I must admit my mind isn't closed to the idea," McManaman wrote in September 1996. "I am a Liverpool lad, and I'm Liverpool through and through. I'd never ask to leave, but if the time came when they wanted to sell me, then I think I would accept the challenge of going abroad. I went on holiday to Sardinia with Paul Ince, and I admire what he has achieved. He could have come home after a year, but he has bravely stuck it out. It can be extremely difficult being immersed in a different culture, but the benefits are strong, as Ince has proved. It's not the money - there is more on offer now in England than anywhere - but the opportunity to test yourself against some of the world's best players, and best tacticians, is an alluring one." In November 1996, Bobby Robson, who had taken over the reins at Nou Camp in the spring, admitted that Macca had been a high priority signing for Barcelona and "Johan Cruyff liked McManaman very much and tried to buy him. But he never got past the enquiry stage. He was told he was not for sale at any price.”
A debut for the England team became a reality on 16 November 1994 against Nigeria. The highlight of McManaman's international career was undoubtedly when he was one step away from reaching the final of the European Championships in England in 1996. McManaman was a firm fixture in the team and made the 18-man "Team of the Tournament".
We had a really good bond together. First we went to China and Hong Kong and did that dentist chair thing.The papers went crazy overboard. It was a private party, sponsors and people who had travelled with England. It was Gazza’s birthday and it went bit out of hand. It was all good-natured. The press had a field day. We didn’t speak to the press the whole tournament. We spoke to the television as it was live, but the written press had a lot of made-up stuff. The tournament started slowly with a draw against Switzerland. It really kicked off with the Scotland game. The first half was really mundane. Gazza scored, did the dentist chair celebration. The next game was Holland, who were one of the pre-tournament favourites. They were all-out attack. We played really well against them. The ball went back and forth all the time. The fans started to get behind us and went crazy with it. Unfortunately we didn't get to the final. The squad was great. There were no cliques, Liverpool against Man United against Arsenal. Everybody was together.
Liverpool sparkled again in 1996/97 but agonisingly missed out on entering the Champions League qualifying round after gaining a solitary point in the final two league games, ending up in fourth with same amount of points but beneath Newcastle United and Arsenal. McManaman used his column for The Times to address the team's success and failures during that eventful season as well as his perceived shortcomings: "Whatever you do, however good you are, there is always someone out there ready to offer a critical analysis, welcome or not. There is always a but. I get that sort of thing at the moment, people say things like: "McManaman is on the verge of becoming a top class player, but . . ." Usually it is a reference to my finishing, because there have been plenty of people queuing up to criticise that lately," McManaman wrote in October 1996. "I am not unduly concerned about the criticism though, because, as an attacking midfield player, the time to start worrying is when the chances dry up. My finishing is genuinely not a worry. I work on it, of course, but I am confident about it. When I was a kid, I was an out-and-out centre forward, and I was a prolific scorer. If I do have a weakness, then it is my defensive work. As far as finishing goes, I think my instinct is still there, and that will show over a season. There are probably only two sources of criticism that I regularly take notice of. One is my dad, who I think is a wonderful reader of the game, and when he points something out to me, then I know he is doing it constructively. He wants to help me. The other, of course, is the staff at Anfield. They give plenty of criticism, but not of the knee-jerk variety. It's more tactical and technical. If we have had a bad game, then Roy Evans, our boss, will have a go. People think he is quiet, but he will have a scream and shout in the dressing-room, if he thinks it is necessary. On the pitch, there is plenty of criticism, too, from the bench and from your own team-mates. Robbie Fowler likes to talk me through my best misses, and I'll do the same to him."
Liverpool were top of the league on 1 January 1997, but a season that promised so much ended in disappointment. McManaman again had to respond to speculation about his future in February. "As long as Liverpool want me, I'm happy. I'm a local lad and I love the club. I do admire foreign football and different cultures. I've spoken to the likes of Gazza, Chris Waddle and Paul Ince, who speak highly of it. As long as Liverpool want me and won't sell me, I will stay there." It was by now a familiar tune. McManaman had an exceptional season and was on the five-man shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year. McManaman couldn't care less about individual awards and dismisses them as "utter nonsense really" and he still looks back regretfully at what could have been that campaign.
It’s fair to say that the 1996/97 was a missed opportunity. We were lacking that little bit of bollocks. We needed a bit more quality. We made too many mistakes at real pivotal times. You have to be able to see a game out, being mentally strong. Just individual errors, from the goalkeeper, from me, the central defenders. This shouldn’t happen. I wanted to play in the Champions League for Liverpool.
THE INGLORIOUS EXIT
Captain John Barnes left Liverpool in the summer and McManaman, now the most experienced player in the side, was appointed vice-captain to Paul Ince. Liverpool’s stance towards McManaman's future had changed at the start of the 1997/98 season after the club had accepted a bid from Barcelona rumoured to be 12.5 million pounds. Once the deal was off Liverpool revealed that it had “received an eight-figure offer from Barcelona and felt obliged to inform the player and give him the opportunity, if he wished speaking to the Spanish club. Liverpool stressed that it wanted Steve to stay and sign a new contract with the club. McManaman was taken by surprise.
Liverpool had agreed a fee without me knowing. I said: “why?” I was perplexed by it all. There was no warning for me. Why had you accepted the bid? Had anyone bid for me before and you hadn’t told me. It was just cash, wasn’t it? We had booked flights to go to Barcelona as Liverpool said that they had agreed a fee. As we were speaking to Barcelona on the phone we knew the deal was never going to happen. We never met them. The flights were booked. We flew to Barcelona, were there for ten minutes, had a meal and then flew straight to Mallorca where we spent a few days. I came back and was right back into the zone straight away. I talked to Roy Evans, who said it got nothing to with him. It was the people upstairs and they were the people UPSTAIRS. You never had much contact with chief executive Peter Robinson or the chairman. They state they don’t want you to go but accept a bid on the other hand. If you don’t want me to go, don’t accept the bid. It was a kick in the teeth to suggest that now we’re more than happy for you to leave if you want to.
McManaman said in the press that he felt that Barcelona had used him as a ploy to secure a deal with Rivaldo who joined Barca from Deportivo La Coruna shortly after the deal collapsed. He, had accepted, though, that this is the way Barcelona do business and had no complaints. In January 1998, Barcelona's vice-president, Joan Gaspart claimed in El Mundo: ''Everything has been agreed with the player and the club. ''If (coach) Louis Van Gaal wants him, he will come after the World Cup.'' That stoked the fires again and Liverpool claimed that no contact had been made with Barcelona since the collapse of the deal in August and McManaman asserted that he'd not signed for a deal with them.
Liverpool's indifferent start to the 1997/98 season put unwanted pressure on McManaman and he addressed the issue in his weekly column in the Times. "So much was said and written about me that you would have thought I had been on a date with a princess! I went from being a hugely talented international, to a greedy so-and-so, to a useless player who had been found out completely and whose career was virtually over by the weekend." McManaman continued: "There was one thing that did register with me and, in fact, did surprise me a great deal. It was the persistent suggestion that the deal fell down because I am greedy.” The same day, Macca's column was published, on 23 August, he was met with a wall of boos when he went over to applaud the Liverpool fans at Ewood Park at Blackburn after a lacklustre draw. Three days later McManaman scored with a superb angled drive into the far bottom corner from the corner of the box against Leeds. It was his first of the season and only his third league goal since last December. Roy Evans felt the need to protect his star asset. “It has been a really difficult period for him. He has been battered from pillar to post since the Barcelona business, but he has shown what he’s worth to us.” Outstanding goals against Arsenal, Aston Villa and Celtic made everyone sit up and take notice of McManaman's mercurial talent. He scored a personal best of twelve goals that campaign after scoring 29 in the previous three seasons.
Liverpool had indicated to the press in August following the collapse of the proposed transfer to Barca that the club was now going to focus on negotiating a new deal for McManaman.
They said in September  when the contract had 18 months to go, that they were going to offer me a new contract. They just needed to get the chief exec and chairman in a room with the manager and me. I said. 'Fine. I'm here every single day training.' That was September. That meeting finally took place in April, eight months later. I walked into the room, four members of the board, chief exec, Evo and the chairman there. 'They said: 'This is the deal, what do you think?' Two seconds later I said no. My wage demands weren’t that much. I was one of the lowest-paid in the whole group. Liverpool were signing new players and they were earning four times more than me and I’m much better than them. I'm a local lad who had climbed the rungs of the ladder pay-wise. Me and Robbie Fowler earned maybe another 100 pounds a week if we made progress. Don’t take us for granted. Then I didn’t hear from them again for another three months.
In July 1998, it was announced that Gérard Houllier had been been appointed joint-manager at Liverpool. "Roy and I have talked many times about Steve's position and what we might do to try and keep him at the club," said Houllier shortly after his arrival. "And we are in complete agreement that our next big signing has got to be Steve." Houllier was certainly concerned that McManaman's contract had been allowed to run into its final year sparking fears of a Bosman exit.
It’s into the last year of my deal and they asked me: 'What are you thinking?' I said it’s up to you to come back to me.' I felt they were not as passionate as I was for the deal to happen. When I indicated I was going to leave, they offered me three times as much as they had originally done. I thought, ‘Christ, you should have offered me that eighteen months ago. Then I would have signed.'
Was the dismissal of Roy Evans the final straw for you?
Yes. I was in regular contact with Roy Evans about my contract and how things were going to move forward. He said a new coach was coming in with new ideas from abroad to freshen it up. Then Gérard came in as joint-manager. I spoke to Evo what this was about and he said he’d had no idea. You start to think to yourself, “What on earth is going on here?” Am I going to commit myself to 4-5 years here? I hadn’t played in the Champions League. If I needed to play abroad the chance was now. I was playing good football. It was the right time for my wife. She was finishing off her law degree. I thought the way they treated Evo was terrible. I got on very well with Gérard. It was nothing to do with Gérard who said he had no problem with me wanting to leave. Let me know just as soon as possible so I can look for a replacement. He was very understanding about my mother, who was very ill and gave me time off at times. I told Gérard in November that I was going to leave. He was as good as his word. He kept that conversation private. He could have come out then and said: ‘He wants to leave.’ He started to look for a replacement that was Vladi.
McManaman bids farewell with a Spurs winner
The 1998/99 season proved a transition period for Liverpool that had known for three months that they were losing their key player. On 29 January 1999, three weeks after he was allowed to sign a pre-contract with another side, McManaman announced that he had signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid and would join the European champions on 1 July. The announcement of McManaman's lucrative deal brought the expected backlash. Macca was seen by some as being disloyal to the club that had raised him unlike Robbie Fowler who had added a further three years to his existing deal a couple of days earlier. Their future prospects were though totally different. Now Macca was leaving for nothing. Liverpool's silence on the matter until now was also seen as having been detrimental to the club's success and had frustrated the fans. This was, however, by no means an uncommon practice in the football world. The club didn't want to show its hand while looking for a replacement while the player had every right not to reveal his decision to quit the club. As a sign of respect between manager and player, Houllier kept the move secret while he could have turned on McManaman and blamed him for wanting to leave his boyhood club and started a war of words. In turn, McManaman could have blamed the club for dragging its feet for the last couple of years. Was there an option or a necessity for Liverpool and McManaman to reveal in November that they were heading for an amicable split? Would that have appeased the fans or just created a different kind of speculation? The bottom line was the fans expected more from their club and player.
McManaman had been playing with a nagging Achilles injury in the 1998/99 campaign since the World Cup in the summer and an additional ankle injury restricted him to only 31 games which was his lowest full season total. The final weeks of McManaman's career at Liverpool were difficult, but brought him some joy on the field. He scored the winner in a 3-2 thriller against Tottenham at Anfield and in his final home match he was taken off to an ovation in the 74th minute as Liverpool were 3-0 up against Wimbledon. Football was ultimately made redundant as 36 hours after his final game for Liverpool, Steve's mother, Irene, passed away only 50 years of age, having been diagnosed with breast cancer six years earlier.
From the Liverpool Echo on 21 May 1999
Former Red Michael Robinson, who had become a revered football analyst on Spanish TV helped Steve and Victoria to adjust to a new lifestyle n Spain as he told LFChistory.net in 2015.
"I first met Steven when he was still playing for Liverpool and there was talk of him coming to Spain. Liverpool had put a ban on Spanish journalists talking to Steven, but I phoned Mr. Peter Robinson personally to see if I could speak to him. Peter was more than welcoming with me; 'Michael, this is your home, you don't need to ask me permission to come here,' he kindly informed me. I flew to Liverpool to meet Steven at Anfield. He turned up rather late and entered the room where I was waiting, something didn’t seem right; 'Mr. Robinson, I'm sorry I'm late, my mum has just died,' he said. I was in sheer shock and instantly insisted that our meeting was called off. However, Steven himself wanted to continue, so we ended up having our chat. The message and feelings I picked up from Steven was one of frustration towards Liverpool Football Club. He was the last of his generation of players, The Bootroom had disappeared, Mr. Houllier was now in charge and Liverpool were starting to play a different style of football. We helped him and his wife Victoria out with everything we could as they are such wonderful and grateful people. My wife and I became great friends with both of them."
When McManaman signed for Real Madrid, Guus Hiddink was the manager but he left the following month. A familiar face, John Toshack, was at the helm when McManaman started pre-season training with Real.
Tosh took over. We were doing the same exercises as he was doing twenty years earlier with Roy Evans and Ronnie Moran. The warm-up was exactly the same. When I got there and started doing the same exercises, I’m thinking to myself: ‘This is quite surreal.’ I knew that Tosh wouldn’t be there long because he was very vociferous with people. He would fight his corner. If anyone from upstairs said to him anything he wouldn’t have it. It was a real transitional period at Real. They were letting many go. They hadn’t won anything the year before I came. They won the Champions League in 1998/99 but then they won nothing. It was many comings and goings. The first six months were hard. It was chaos. Nicolas Anelka came in and there were lots of problems with him. There is always a big drama at Real Madrid.
McManaman starred in the Champions League final in his first season at Real, scoring a superb goal in a 3-0 win over Valencia. After watching other teams play in Europe's top club competition for years, it was a dream come true.
We’d been beaten heavily in the Champions League group stages by Bayern Munich, who had an excellent side. We seemed to really click as a team when we went to five at the back. The three central defenders were Ivan Helguera, Aitor Karanka and Ivan Campo which were not the star names for Real Madrid who were Manuel Sanchis who was captain and Fernando Hierro but he was injured. We fell into this back five with Roberto Carlos and Manuel Salgado as full-backs. I played central midfield with Fernando Redondo. We beat Man United in the quarter-finals and beat Bayern in the semis. Even though Valencia were favourites really in the final as they were higher than us in the league, we just knew we were going to win. Once the momentum gets going you become unstoppable.
Two years later McManaman won the Champions League again after coming on as a substitute for the famous "Los Galacticos" team after an hour's play for Luis Figo in a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen. Macca made 94 (60 starts) league appearances in four years for Real and won two La Liga titles, in 2001 and 2003.
Steve McManaman can look back at a fantastic career with two of the biggest teams on the planet. He made his family proud of his achievements and accomplished more than most of his compatriots who have left for the mainland. Former journalist Tony Barrett who is the Head of Club and Supporter Engagement at Liverpool FC captures the essence of McManaman's career at Liverpool. "There was a buzz about McManaman from early on. He comes from Kirkdale and everyone on Scotland Road was talking about Steve McManaman and from the moment he came into the side you could see why. He had that ability to beat defenders with ease and with just a drop of the shoulder or a jink he would be away. He was so naturally talented but it was easy to forget how much work he got through in a Liverpool shirt. There was no-one who ran more and he was a natural athlete and he ran and ran and ran."
Local lads who made the grade. A picture that means a lot to McManaman.
Interview by Arnie Baldursson (editor of LFChistory.net)