Sources close to Anfield suggested that the deal had been scuppered by McManaman's demand for a six-year contract worth pounds 50,000 per week. McManaman was represented in negotiations by his adviser, Simon Fuller, who is also manager of the Spice Girls.
In a statement released yesterday Liverpool said they had given McManaman permission to talk to Barcelona after receiving an "eight-figure offer" from the Spanish club. Although Liverpool said that permission had been given despite the fact that they did not want the player to leave, it seems clear that they were prepared to sell. McManaman's present five- year deal has two years left to run, but the statement said that several months of negotiations over a new deal with the player had so far proved unsuccessful.
Under the Bosman ruling players are able to move overseas without a transfer fee at the end of their contracts, and it seems likely that Liverpool decided now might be the time to cash in on McManaman. After being told of Barcelona's interest, McManaman flew to Spain to open negotiations. Barcelona, however, were not prepared to meet his pay demands, which would have cost the club a total of more than pounds 27m in transfer fee and wages over six years.
The Spanish club had been thinking in terms of pounds 30,000 a week rather than pounds 50,000 (McManaman is believed to earn pounds 12,000 per week under his current contract with Liverpool), which would still have meant the player earning pounds 9.5m over the length of his contract.
However, it emerged yesterday that Barcelona may not have ultimately pursued their interest in McManaman under any circumstances. After Barcelona's poor performance on Wednesday night, when they could only beat the Latvians of Skonto Riga 3-2 in the first leg of their European Cup qualifying round tie, a meeting was held between Luis Nunez, the Barcelona president, Joan Gaspart, the vice-president, and Louis van Gaal, the coach.
Sources in Barcelona said that at the meeting it was decided that the club needed to recruit an attacking wing player in the McManaman mould - but that he had to be a proven goalscorer. It is widely recognised that one of the major weaknesses in McManaman's game is his finishing.
Barcelona had also been interested in Rivaldo, an attacking midfield player who scored 21 goals in 41 matches for Deportivo La Coruna last season. On Thursday they opened negotiations with the Brazilian and yesterday completed his purchase for pounds 16.7m, the second highest fee ever paid after their own sale of Ronaldo to Internazionale. Although the fee was higher than that proposed for McManaman, his wages were said to be "only" pounds 16,000 a week.
McManaman flew to Majorca yesterday, while Liverpool said they now hoped to persuade him to sign a new contract. As he can be expected to make similar demands of Liverpool negotiations are unlikely to reach a speedy conclusion.
It remains to be seen what the Anfield crowd will make of this week's events. Some supporters had already been expressing their frustration at McManaman's continuing failure to realise fully his undoubted promise and this episode may reinforce his less than complimentary image as a "Spice Boy".