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Brian Reade Column: Macca.. from a floppy-fringed genius to flop on the fringes.

Byline: BRIAN READE

NOW that the final Spice Boy has sashayed out of Anfield it's time to put on a Kate Thornton mask, waffle about why we all loved 1997, and ask where are they now?

Whatever happened to Jamie Redknapp's white-suited compadres, whose alleged Saturday-evening ritual was to wash 'n' go straight onto the Manchester-Heathrow shuttle while the Kop was still emptying?

Jason McAteer? On Wednesday he watched his Irish team-mates, who he will be flying off to the World Cup with, beat the USA in Dublin. David James and Robbie Fowler? Involved in the Paraguay game at Anfield and certs to fly with England to Japan.

Steve McManaman? Sat in his sumptuous villa on the outskirts of Madrid, refusing to watch England's under-strength midfield attempt to cope with the loss of David Beckham. Chewing over the fact that just as he reaches his peak, his England career is finished.

And probably not giving a flying Figo.

If McManaman was half as proud as he is gifted, he would have been devastated to know that when Beckham's broken foot set a nation talking, his name never once cropped up as the man whose talent and experience could fill the gap.

He would feel ashamed that with Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard the only proven international-class players in midfield, Sven Goran Eriksson hadn't asked him to lead his country out at his old stamping ground and show us why a few years ago Pele called him one of the best players in the world. But that's our Shaggy. So laid-back he's doing a permanent limbo dance.

The realisation that kids like Kieron Dyer, Owen Hargreaves, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard, decent grafters like Nicky Butt and Danny Murphy, and no-hopers like Trevor Sinclair and Matt Jansen are perceived as better midfield players than him would probably only lead to a flick of the fringe and a shrug of the shoulders.

But to many of us it's a disgrace that having perfected his craft in the white shirt of Real Madrid, McManaman should lack the desire to parade it on the highest stage, in the white of England.

At just turned 30, with 37 caps to his name, and playing regularly for the best club in the world, he should now be coming into his own.

A proven heavyweight with the potential to solve any of Eriksson's midfield dilemmas, McManaman is the creative link we have missed since Paul Gascoigne, the left-winger we are crying out for, or the deputy for a crocked Beckham.

But the wily Swede quickly realised what we already knew. That when it comes to his club, Macca can. When it comes to his country, Macca can't be bothered.

Since his move to Madrid he has treated England games like an old school reunion. A chance to have a laugh with the lads and catch up on gossip.

When it has come to showing he is worthy of his shirt his attitude has been: "I scored in a European Cup Final for the biggest club there is and I can't see why I'm sitting on a bench behind the likes of Nick Barmby. If you throw me on as sub, I go on with nothing to prove. And if you don't like my attitude, fair enough." Nowhere did that come across more than in his 25 minutes against Albania when his apathy was so great, every time he went down the paramedics did not know whether to bring on a stretcher or sun-lounger.

He has complained that Eriksson only plays him in fits and starts and thus hasn't appreciated his true quality. But a player of his class should never have allowed that to be a problem. He should have been bursting a gut to embarrass the coach whenever he got the chance.

Look at Joe Cole against Paraguay. Here was a substitute doing everything McManaman chooses not to. Wanting the ball, beating men, playing colleagues into dangerous positions, shooting, and racing around like a blue-bummed fly to prove that there's far more to him than his reputation and that he has a burning desire to be a winner for his country.

That's why the West Ham kid will get the chance to light up the biggest stage on earth while the Real Madrid superstar sits by his Spanish swimming pool claiming his exclusion is England's loss, not his, and that winning a European Cup medal for the greatest team on earth means he's answered his critics back home. Only it doesn't.

It seems baffling that the most successful Englishman to play abroad (medals-wise) had his international career terminated at 29 when his country was crying out for his brand of skill.

And it begs the question - have England made a blunder by discarding a world-class player? Or is the fact that he couldn't care whether he's discarded or not proof that McManaman never had the mental toughness to be a world-class player in the first-place? Like Sven, I'll plump for the latter.

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IT'S A REAL SHAME: Steve McManaman could have answered his critics but, instead, proved they were right
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 20, 2002
Words:855
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