Steve McManaman, in terms of the cliché Galacticos that came before and after him, did not fit the Real Madrid mould; awkward and gangly running style combined with questionable hair and a thick Scouse dialect, wasn’t one to fit seamlessly into the Spanish culture, on and off the pitch.
McManaman’s move to Los Blancos was initially earmarked to go down in football history that the future Real Madrid transfers of Thomas Gravesen, Julien Faubert and Emmanuel Adebayor now reside.
Although it stood to reason that Madrid would want a player many considered the finest dribbler in the Premier League, McManaman and Liverpool were way behind the Premier League’s own Galacticos in Arsenal and Manchester United, with the likes of Patrick Vieira, Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Bergkamp and Dwight Yorke.
McManaman’s debut season was mainly spent in the dugout, looking out as Raul, Fernando Hierro and Roberto Carlos wore the famous white of Real Madrid like they were born wearing it. But as the 1999/2000 season progressed, the boy who grew up supporting Everton found a role for himself.
Like so many Galacticos pre and post-McManaman have found out, Real Madrid’s loyalty only exists until the next luxury player peaks their interest. And one season after joining from Liverpool on a free transfer, Madrid were looking to sell the winger, in order to balance the books due to Luis Figo’s arrival.
“I’ve joked that I’d rather play for Outer Mongolia or Torquay than some Premiership side. I did speak to Bryan Robson on the phone but I was never interested in going to Boro. I admire Robbo but I had no intention of going home.”
McManaman stood firm, and refused to leave the Bernabeu, despite Madrid’s best attempts – the England international wasn’t given a squad number for the start of the 2000/01 campaign. And it was Fernando Redondo that was the pawn to fall, with Madrid selling the fan favourite to AC Milan.
McManaman had won a power struggle that players rarely win with the Los Blancos hierarchy, and had done so in a dignified and calm way; the fans adored him more and even a few out in Barcelona raised their glasses to the man from Kirkdale.
Come Christmas, squad number assigned, McManaman was back into Vincente Del Bosque’s first-team plans. The Spaniard had learnt to appreciate the selflessness of his Scouse winger, in a team of selfish, narcissistic and personal goal-driven superstars, a player of McManaman’s mentality was everything – similar to Casemiro’s undervalued importance to the current Real Madrid set-up.
When Macca eventually did leave Real Madrid in 2003, spending four years in the Spanish capital, taking home eight trophies from the 11 finals he played in, he left as one of Madrid’s most important and finest signings of the 21st century.
“I was very happy with Macca. He was a caballero, a gentleman, a stupendous guy; he always had a smile, he never complained, he was great, a leader. He related to everyone very well; he united people. He had a bad time [towards the end] with achilles pain, but every day he trained with the same attitude. He was exemplary … and a good footballer too, very good. A fantastic player in every sense.”
Vincente Del Bosque
Steve McManaman may rarely come up in such conversations, but even if you don’t consider the trophies, the Liverpool icon is English football’s most successful and finest British export, the player who managed to show Real Madrid the other side of the coin.