Football: Real Madrid chase McManaman

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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL WILL continue to hold talks with Steve McManaman to try to avoid an auction for the Anfield and England midfielder. The 26- year-old was the centre of attention on Liverpool's Uefa Cup trip to Valencia and both Real Madrid and Barcelona had scouts in the Mestella Stadium watching the 2-2 draw.

They must have been impressed with McManaman, who is out of contract in the summer and can leave for nothing under the Bosman ruling. McManaman hit the post from 20 yards, scored a stunning headed equaliser that put Liverpool en route to the last 16 and was sent off in injury time. After the game, Real Madrid, who have previously voiced an interest in the player, reiterated that position through their vice president, Juan Manuel Herroro. He said: "We are now going to try to contact the club over McManaman."

Barcelona had a pounds 12.6m bid accepted by Liverpool last season, but the move fell through after McManaman had flown to Spain for talks. What is clear is that under Uefa regulations, McManaman can talk to prospective buyers from 1 January, and the longer his contract dispute drags on with Liverpool, the more acute the situation gets. It would be naive to suggest that McManaman's advisors are not already fully acquainted with interest in the player from abroad, but Liverpool maintain that talks on a new deal are still on going, but both club and player deny reports that he wants pounds 50,000 a week are true.

The club have described as "garbage" claims that Chelsea are interested in the player. "There has been no contact," a Liverpool spokesman said.

The logic of whether any club would offer pounds 13m now when they can get him for nothing next June is also open to question. Liverpool have also dismissed suggestions that a one-year extension to McManaman's contract is an option.

That, they claim, would solve nothing and just add another 18 months to the saga. What is clear is that many clubs in England would be interested in signing McManaman if, come next summer, he walks away from Anfield. Every leading club in the country would show interest then, and McManaman could become the biggest, and richest, player to benefit from the Bosman ruling.

Derby's interest in the Southampton striker Mark Hughes is unlikely to result in a permanent move. Hughes' agent, Dennis Roach, insisted the Welsh international will be remaining at The Dell until the end of his two-year contract.

"I had a meeting with Derby manager Jim Smith in Birmingham to discuss the extension of the contract of his striker Paulo Wanchope," said Roach, who also represents the Rams' Costa Rican forward.

"At the end of those negotiations, Mr Smith raised the matter of Mark Hughes and was informed, as have other managers who have enquired, that Hughes signed a two-year agreement with Southampton and remains a Southampton player until the club advise either me or the player otherwise.

"There were no detailed discussions with Mr Smith concerning Mark Hughes, only Paulo Wanchope."

Earlier Derby had confirmed an interest in Hughes, who has failed to hold down a regular place at The Dell since moving from Chelsea in the summer.

"We have been in negotiations with the player's agent," a spokesman for Derby said.

The Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has signed a club record six and a half year contract to keep him at the Riverside Stadium until the summer of 2005.

The deal ends speculation linking the 26-year-old Australian with moves to Manchester United and Liverpool.

The former Bradford player's contract is the longest ever signed by a Middlesbrough player.