McManaman relishes spice of bitter rivalry

True blue who turned red knows all about Mersey derby, and the pain in Spain

For someone brought up as a dyed-in-the-blue-wool Evertonian, who then played 364 games for Liverpool over a nine-year period, Mersey derbies bring mixed emotions. Studied neutrality is not the most obvious of them, but that is what Steve McManaman has to practise when his employers, Setanta Sports, televise two derbies in a week.

The number of true Blues who have gone over to the other side as players is something of a continuing frustration to Everton followers, who dream of the teams they might have fielded had Ian Rush, Michael Owen, McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and others stayed true to "The People's Club". McManaman turned down his boyhood favourites because they would only offer a one-year schoolboy contract to a tiny lad whose father (also an Everton fanatic) wisely reckoned would need longer than that to develop physically. Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's manager at the time, suggested a schoolboy contract plus a two-year apprenticeship on top and the deal was done.

"I was a big Everton fan, but at the time Liverpool's scouting system was just a hundred times better," says McManaman 20 years on. "They made that extra effort, wheeled out Kenny Dalglish to meet you and made you feel as if this was the greatest club in the world. The clubs were virtually on a par at that time, Everton had just won the Cup-Winners' Cup, which I went to watch as a fan, but at that age your dad wants what's best for you and I think that was the case with all those lads."

If Liverpool became the more successful of the two sides in the Nineties, they still lost as many derby matches as they won. McManaman was a squad player in his debut season for the most famous of them, the 4-4 FA Cup replay at Goodison that prompted Dalglish's resignation.

"That was just the most incredible game," he says. "I had some great derby memories and some terrible ones, and being a local lad they do mean that little bit more to you. I understood that by playing in other derbies as well, like in Spain, where it really meant a lot to the local boys."

There is a feeling, articulated by Carragher in his autobiography Carra, that passions off the pitch in the Mersey derby have degenerated into crude abuse of players. McManaman still believes that the rivalry, fierce as it is, has nothing on what he experienced after leaving for Real Madrid in 1999 as the first major Bosman free transfer and coming up against Barcelona.

"That's something else. It's like Spain against another country, with a different language and culture, and there's real resentment there. When we got near their ground there'd be police running alongside with shotguns and we'd all get into the middle of the bus while [the Barcelona fans] stoned the windows. It was just mad." Sticks and stones or not, it was a hugely enjoyable time, after which he could probably claim to have won more major trophies abroad than any other British export, including two European Cups.

Liverpool, in contrast, had never been in contention for the League (once finishing eighth, once seventh) and had to settle for the 1992 FA Cup (he was named man of the match in the final) and a League Cup three years later. What of Rafa Benitez's chances this season of the trophy that supporters want most? "I think it's still very much on the cards and certainly the best chance for a long, long time."

Although essentially supportive of Benitez, whom he first met in Spain, he believes one little managerial outburst in the past couple of weeks would have sufficed and that the second one, about the club's internal politics, was not quite the Liverpool way. "I thought the first one, about [Sir Alex] Ferguson, was just a half-term report, not a rant, where he felt United had got away with things. I didn't mind that. The contract problems I'd personally have preferred to be kept quiet. It should be kept private. But I don't think it's big enough for him to walk away."

He admits that Liverpool will need to improve on last Monday's performance, when they allowed Everton back into the game for a deserved draw. "It was a little bit negative. The people Liverpool put on the pitch were quite negative, and the passing went sideways and backwards, the whole team. It just invited Everton to come and have a go at them and they were incredibly resilient. Then it was a stupid challenge to give away a free-kick and they let the best header in the team, Tim Cahill, have a free header, so it was a disastrous end to the game for Liverpool."

There will be more mixed emotions when Real Madrid meet Liverpool again in the Champions' League. "Madrid are not in great shape at the moment, though the Champions' League brings the best out of them. So I certainly think Liverpool will be favourites and the four English teams should be too strong for everybody bar a very impressive Barcelona side."

Long before that, however, there is another, more parochial, squabble to be settled. Delighted to have found such an enjoyable second career without the strain he saw afflicting Dalglish, McManaman will gratefully take his place in the Setanta box today.

His former team-mate and fellow Spice Boy (a tag they naturally hate) Fowler will be representing Liverpool, and Gary Speed Everton, whileMcManaman plays the neutral. "We'll have a laugh and a joke. The people I work with are brilliant, and where you miss the camaraderie of the dressing room, I've got that back here."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin