London, England - Monday, December 2, 1996: Liverpool's Steve McManaman in action during the 2-0 Premier League victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

STEVE McMANAMAN is 45 today. A Scouser who made 364 appearances and scored 66 goals in the red of Liverpool FC. A player who joined the club as a teenage Evertonian and left having won two cups – The FA Cup in 1992 and The League Cup in 1995. In that final in 1995, McManaman was the clear man of the match — scoring two, Liverpool’s star, leading every attack and running the Bolton defence ragged.

It was one of many times that Macca was the man for Liverpool; the creative force, the difference maker, the wizard of the dribble. Sometimes, perhaps too often, Liverpool leaned on him too heavily. Other times though, he was simply magnificent — the best player on the pitch, skipping past challenges, running forever, making and scoring goals out of nothing.

And yet…

Despite all the good times, including eye-popping goals at Highbury, versus Celtic, the carbon copy vs Aston Villa, his career at Anfield was tarnished for many by his departure. He was perceived as a traitor by some — a lad from Liverpool leaving for the money (even though Liverpool offered him a contract not dissimilar to the one he signed at Real Madrid).

It didn’t help that Liverpool, due to the Bosman ruling, received nothing for the services of a player who was capped 37 times by England and went on to win two La Liga titles and two European Cups, being crowned as man of the match in the 2000 final v Valencia for good measure.

Nowadays, players leave on frees all the time, and Liverpool have benefitted from it as much as the next club — see Joel Matip, James Milner, Craig Bellamy, Gary McAllister, Markus Babbel and Robbie Fowler to name but a few.

Then though, it led to confusion, to anger, and reputation-wise it seems to influence views of McManaman to this day. Does he deserve to be remembered better?

We spoke to his former manager ROY EVANS about the man, the player, the departure and the aftermath.

How good was he?

“He was completely different to what we had at the time. The way he could carry the ball out from defence to attack. He could create chances and had a great relationship with Robbie Fowler on and off the pitch. He was one of the top players around, certainly in my team, because week in and week out he produced the goods.”

European Football - UEFA Cup - 1st Round 1st Leg - FC Alania Spartak Vladikavkaz v Liverpool FC

What was he like to manage personally?

“Macca’s a really steady guy and very sensible. He’s an educated lad and he knows what’s going on. Very simple to manage and was one of the players you could go to to talk about how the game was going and how the team was playing. He was a great asset to my team, that’s for sure.”

How did his departure come about?

“You never really know with these things. We’re all Liverpool lads and sometimes it can feel like the only club in the world, but I had left. I’m not suggesting Macca would have stayed had I stayed, but it would have given me more chance to talk to him.

“I think he’s given a hard time because he left on a free, but that wasn’t Steve’s fault that was the club’s fault for letting him get in that situation. Sometimes in life you go for another challenge and Steve saw Real Madrid as a big challenge for him and he did go there and was immensely successful — winning the Champions League, learning the language quickly and adapting. If you talk to any Spanish fans, certainly Real Madrid fans, I’m sure they’ll have a huge respect for Steve.”

How much was he worth?

“I bought Stan Collymore for £8.5 million, which was a British record fee at the time. So in terms of what Steve gave to the team each week you’d have to say more than that. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that the club weren’t able to recoup any money but you can’t blame Steve for that.”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 23, 2003: Real Madrid line-up to face Manchester United before the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final 2nd Leg match at Old Trafford...Back row l-r: Iker Casillas, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Helguera, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Guti. Front row l-r: Claude Makelele, Michel Salgado, Roberto Carlos, Steve McManaman, Ronaldo.

Would there be as much fuss these days?

“I think at the time people thought if you played for Liverpool then you played there for life, but that’s not always how football works. I think it’s got to the stage now where Liverpool fans have forgiven, if there was anything to forgive — and I’m not sure there is, to be fair — but I’m sure they’re more realistic about what happened.

“We’ve now seen not only Steve leave but loads of players have left Liverpool to go to other clubs. In all honesty, there’s no loyalty in football these days from both sides, the players and the clubs.”

Could it have been handled differently?

“I suppose there’s always different ways of doing things, but it’s the agents who do all the wheeling and dealing and because there was a loophole in the way Bosmans worked he was allowed to go free. It should never have been allowed to get to that point anyway from Liverpool’s point of view, they should have been on top of it.

“As I said, he’s not the only lad ever to leave the club and I think with a lot of these players who have left the club, most fans still have a great respect for them. Michael Owen moved on, Luis Suarez moved on and even Robbie Fowler moved on, but I think with Macca because of the Bosman fans felt a bit short-changed. But they were the rules and you can only really blame the club for that.”

How is that relationship now and after he left?

“My relationship with him is great. He’s a great lad who you could always talk to, had a lot of common sense talking about the game — as you can see, he does a lot on the media side now — but he was always great on and off the pitch.

“Obviously after he left I didn’t speak to him every day but we still had a good relationship and you’re always delighted when you get chance to see him after, I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that about all my players. But Macca is one of my favourite players of all time, certainly during my time as a manager.”

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