Friday, May 20, 2005

McManaman - A Very Modern Football Career

When the big kahunas at Manchester City sat down this week for some end of season stocktaking, probably the first item of spoilt goods to be dispatched was the shaggy haired Scouser loitering in the vague vicinity of the treatment room. Steve McManaman was always what is known as a "luxury" player, but for a club with Manchester City's Himalayan debt, the presence of a "luxury" player who rarely played was too luxurious by far for any self-respecting purple-faced bank manager.

"Get thee to a mock-tudor Cheshire mansion, ye malingering rapscallion!!"

And so, it would seem, ends a very modern football career.

McManaman, in fairness, has made it clear that he would not seek a new contract at City if he could not prove his fitness, and has made noises to the effect that he may retire. He alluded to this last January: "I do not want to carry on playing if I have an injury and if I knew I was injured I wouldn't sign a new contract. That is not my style and I don't think my reputation deserves it either."

All the same, McManaman's curious career carries many characteristics only found in the modern game. In early "Spice Boy" years, he was part of the footballer-as-popstar phenomenon which saw the game's callow youths occupy as much poster time in the pages of Just Seventeen as in Shoot. At this stage the image of the slacker, the Champagne Charlie, was established.

Of course the playboy footballer is by no means exclusively a modern phenemenon, but the 1990's generation had more in common with Take That than with Best, Worthington and their ilk.

McManaman's salad days were spent in Madrid, where in his first few seasons (and before the Galactico sickness took hold of Franco's XI) he was a central figure, culminating with a glorious volleyed goal to seal the European Cup in 2000 against Valencia.

Marginalised by the bloating of Real's squad and made well aware that he was not part of their on-field plans, McManaman dug his heels in.

As a player who'd come of age as football bathed in Rupert Murdoch's largesse, McManaman was obscenely wealthy. He also had a contract that he was quite prepared to sit out. He and Robbie Fowler became as famous for their property portfolios as their football.

My abiding image of this time is of interviews with McManaman in Madrid, he understandably tanned and smug, backdropped by a vast marble fire-place and interspersed with clips of knockabout training japes with Zinedine and Ronny. "That man has it made", you were meant to think.

So the modern footballer lurched towards retirement, not before finding another foolish club to pay his mortgages, rich beyond the dreams of the thousands of pros who retired penniless after careers ten times as hard-wrought, if not as glorious, and clouded with the pervading impression of a fine talent who just didn't need to play football any more.

P.S. One of the best goals I ever saw scored in person was by McManaman for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup tie against Celtic at Parkhead in 1997. A mazy dribble culminating in a curling shot to top left corner, the Celtic defence backed off unforgivably, making the goal, ironically, look easy.


Anonymous Synno said...

I always felt that McManaman was thoroughly overrated. A handful a big games or spectacular goals aside, he never properly produced at any level. The mid-nineties comparisons of himself and Ryan Giggs look even more laughable now.

1:53 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

While McManaman never deserved to be mentioned in the same company as Giggs I think the Welshman benefitted in his development from the club environment he was playing in, as opposed to McManaman's more slapdash surroundings in 1990s Liverpool

3:01 p.m.  

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