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FOOTBALL: HODDLE'S DECISION WILL SOLVE MACCA RIDDLE; At 26 Liverpool star will know his future is in Europe if he's out of final 22.

GLENN HODDLE holds the Premiership future of Steve McManaman in his hands.

The mercurial Liverpudlian is among those in the England set-up who probably enjoyed little sleep last night.

Although if his carefully-crafted, laid-back persona is anything to go by, McManaman will take whatever news Hoddle has to impart with a shrug and a flick of his tousled hair.

But the Hoddle vote will carry massive implications for player, country and club.

This is the summer of destiny for McManaman.

At 26, he is recognised as one of the Premiership's neon-light attractions.

At 26, he is not yet a firmly-established international player.

At 26, he is the standard-bearer for Anfield's current breed.

At 26, he is uncertain of his club future.

That is McManaman - full of contradictions.

More Liverpool than the omnibus edition of Brookside - yet seemingly holding out for a lucrative move abroad.

Portrayed as the thinking man's footballer with his pioneering newspaper column - yet coming across as an archetypal, dentist's chair type of guy in his post-match TV chats.

Read by Radio Four listeners - managed by a Spice Girls guru.

But a lot of the riddles will be solved when Hoddle gives him his summer schedule today.

McManaman flatly denies that there is any form of rift between himself and the national coach.

He said in his broadsheet column: "As far as I am concerned, the England manager has no problems with me. He has always been fine with me, so why is there all this fuss?

"I don't know, but I do know that I am totally committed to the England cause."

And that is the crux of the matter.

Laid-back or not, people close to McManaman will tell you that he will be deeply hurt and upset if he does not make the plane to France.

And, ironically, that could settle his club future.

Popular thought has it that McManaman is keen to put himself in the World Cup shop window.

With his Anfield contract expiring next summer, he would be able to open negotiations with a Continental side in January.

Fireworks in France and his already large earning potential would explode into mind-boggling territory.

In fact, a 'no' vote from Hoddle would escalate the likelihood of his departure.

If Hoddle leaves him at home, McManaman's international future would be plain to see.

With the England coach set to lead the country beyond the Millenium, it would be bleak.

And that would increase the attraction of a new challenge for the player who has been part of the Anfield furniture since he was a gangly schoolkid.

If he can't get a place in the squad after consistently being the best player in the Premiership's third best team, what hope does McManaman have of making Euro 2000?

With the odd exception, top players have been reluctant to move abroad in recent times because of the effect it can have on an international career.

That concern will be stripped from McManaman if he is excluded from the 22 today.

And his marketability on the Continental scene would hardly be damaged.

Barcelona are waiting for the green light to go back in for him - in a recent poll, he was second only to Ronaldo in a list of players the Catalan fans wanted their club to sign this summer. And those 104,000 season ticket holders have a very powerful voice.

Undertstandably, Liverpool want to know their position sooner rather than later.

If McManaman continues to stall on a new deal, they will be forced to try to cash in on their prize asset.

They expect a decision some time before the start of the new season.

Hoddle might just help make up Macca's mind today.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Dunn, Andy
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 31, 1998
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