DIRTY BARCAS DUPED ME!; I was in Barcelona while Nou Camp chief was 700 miles away signing Brazilian Rivaldo SAYS STEVE McMANAMAN.
The 25-year-old England star flew out to Spain for talks on Thursday only to be totally snubbed by the Spanish giants.
McManaman has opened his heart on the incredible events which turned a dream move into one of the biggest transfer fiascos in soccer history.
The Scouser wasn't met at the airport, had to find his own way to the hotel and was then left twiddling his thumbs while Barcelona vice-president Juan Gaspart - the man who invited him out for talks - was 700 miles away in La Coruna.
Sneaky Gaspart was actually finalising the deal for Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo, while a bewildered McManaman waited for a telephone call that never came. He added: "I thought it was strange that they should ask me out to talk, and then decide not to talk to me."
As he sat in his room in the Palace Ritz Hotel in the Catalan capital, McManaman began to suspect he was the innocent party in a classic piece of transfer skulduggery.
He believes he was taken out to Spain purely as a lever to put pressure on Barcelona's real target - Rivaldo.
Having given up on signing another Brazilian, Denilsen, Barca had targetted
Rivaldo - and were desperate to sign him by yesterday's deadline for European Champions League registrations.
With Rivaldo and his advisers appearing to drag their heels and hold out for huge personal terms, Barcelona decided to panic him by flying out McManaman, although they appeared to have little intention to buy him. McManaman even suspects Barca alerted the Spanish media to where he was staying. And it meant he had the embarrassment of walking into the hotel lobby to be besieged by cameras and microphones.
But McManaman and his adviser, Simon Fuller, the money man behind the Spice Girls pop group, had feared the worse from a telephone call Fuller had made to Gaspart earlier in the week.
Barcelona's personal terms were a six-year contract on pounds 15,000 a week - way below what he was expecting.
Fuller said: "We asked for what we considered a reasonable wage in terms of European football.
"If Barcelona were prepared to pay the pounds 12m transfer fee then they must also be prepared to pay a comparable amount in wages."
The suspicion is that Barcelona made their derisory offer knowing full well it would be unacceptable to the player.
And McManaman is furious with Barcelona's claims that the deal had collapsed because he had asked for too much money.
Reports have suggested he asked for pounds 2m a year tax free over four or five years.
But Macca stormed: "I never met anyone from Barcelona. I flew out there and flew back without meeting or talking to anyone.
"It is a disgrace to say the deal fell through because I am greedy. There was no deal I did not even open negotiations.
"I was surprised when Liverpool said they would let Barcelona talk to to me because I did not want to join them. Liverpool could have simply rejected the deal.
"I went to speak to them out of courtesy only to discover they did not want to talk to me.
"Why they did that I do not know, but you can draw your own conclusions. They were negotiating with another player and maybe that says it all.
"I have maintained all along that I would not leave Liverpool unless they didn't want me any longer.
"Now I will be coming back to England happy that I am still playing in the city where I come from.
"I'm sure that the supporters would have been unhappy about me moving and that would have been a very important consideration to me."
The whole affair will be a huge embarrassment for Bobby Robson, Barcelona's general manager and the man who brokered the deal.
The former England manager, an honourable man, watched McManaman in Liverpool's opening two games and had talks with both the player and Liverpool manager Roy Evans to set up the deal.
Robson had recommended McManaman to Louis van Gaal, his successor as team coach, and the Barcelona money men were ordered to get him at any cost.
Robson told McManaman he needed to make a hasty decision because Barcelona were anxious to sign him before yesterday's European registration deadline.
Robson also told him to prepare for his debut against Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup next Saturday. But unknown to Robson, Barcelona were setting up the deal with Rivaldo.
And that has left McManaman's career in a state of limbo.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 16, 1997|
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