McManaman confounds critics to prove he is a Real class act

By Bill George

McManaman spent nine years at Liverpool before leaving on a free transfer for Real in 1999 and he is now a much more rounded, more self-confident player whose movement and touch are very much on a par with his more famous colleagues.

He is 31 years old and unlikely to ever win a place as an automatic starter for Real. Madrid were actively seeking to transfer him two seasons ago and his role this season has been very peripheral.

The match against Manchester United was his first start in two months, yet he fitted, withease, into Real's smooth teamwork, dovetailing perfectly with Roberto Carlos, Guti and Zidane on the left flank.

McManaman enjoyed many fine days with Liverpool without ever commanding the high profile status of Michael Owen.

But then he was never a specialist goal-scorer his particular talents fitted him more for the role of linkman and provider.

He performed these tasks to perfection against United.

And while he will never make a living as a defender he still provided an obstacle to United's attacking ambitions by his astute positional play and concentrated support of defenders.

All of this he achieved quietly and efficiently despite the constant barracking of the anti-Liverpool element of United's support.

And it is to his credit that he never once responded, even when the booing and name-calling reached a peak when he was substituted.

McManaman has been treated disgracefully by successive managers of England and none more so that the current incumbent, Sven Goran Eriksson.

How England could afford to go to the World Cup without McManaman remains one of the great imponderables of football.

But then McManaman does not fit the popular image of the fired-up, hyped-up, archetypal English player.

He is obviously more energised by the skilful side of the game than the physical and is probably too laid-back for some.

Witness Alex Ferguson's rather tasteless reaction to his selection: "I was very surprised he played. I'd worked out lots of different formations they could play but he wasn't in any of them.

"Maybe it was because he's got experience of Old Trafford, because I can't think of any reason otherwise."

Was Ferguson deliberately putting down a former Liverpool foe? Or was he just so upset at losing that he was careless in his choice of words?

Either way it does not matter because McManaman was excellent and it was obvious that training every day with such a quality squad has helped him develop his game appreciably.

Which brings us to John O'Shea and the huge impression theyoung Waterford man made, particularly in the first half before Ferguson began to tinker with his back four alignment.

O'Shea is rapidly developing into the type of authoritative defender Ireland need.

His skill on the ball and his pace help make him one of the most exciting young players in the Premiership and point to his huge potential.

He will continue to develop in the hurly-burly of the Premiership for several seasons more, but it would help him develop his game further if, in time, he was to spend a couple of seasons with a top continental club.

Meantime, he is in the Irish squad for next Wednesday's friendly game against Norway and it would be very informative if Brian Kerr was to play him in the centre of midfield as was suggested here a couple of weeks ago.

O'Shea is such an outstanding young player that he surely could develop into a major player in any of several different positions. So why not set out to make him the main man?

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