Former Liverpool, Real Madrid and England midfielder Steve McManaman is in town for the Liverpool Masters and just as you would expect, FourFourTwo’s Nigel Chin popped right down for a little chat.
Still sporting his trademark long hair, Steve was all smiles as he turned up right on time to enjoy the sea-view from Westin Singapore, before getting started with this interview.
Now a regular pundit with BT Sport, Mcmanaman, who won an astonishing 10 trophies in a 15-year career, was more than happy to share with us his views on Liverpool’s current struggles, the story of the ‘Spice Boys’ tag, meeting his former Liverpool mates, as well as labeling a certain policy ‘complete nonsense.’
Steve, I know you are a pundit back in the UK with BT Sport. What are your thoughts on Liverpool’s struggles this season?
I think the main problem at the moment is that they are not creating enough chances. Last year they were scoring a lot of goals, they scored over a 100 goals but now it looks as if they are not going to score any goals. I watched the game against Hull, I watch the game at the Bernabeu the other day, I watched the game at Chelsea - they don’t create enough chances at the moment and I think it’s a worry.
Do you think the struggles have anything to do with the tactics deployed by Brendan Rodgers?
I don’t think it’s down to the tactics. It’s the same really, you’ve got 11 people and you play against another 11 people. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the tactics, it’s just the players are not at the same level they were last year. And principally they’ve lost the two centre-forwards - one because they have sold him and the other through injuries.
And the one who was sold - Luis Suarez - has been replaced by the enigmatic Mario Balotelli. We saw how good he was with Manchester City, but right now he’s a thoroughly different player isn’t it?
Well he’s not playing well at the moment, is he? It’s become more obvious to everybody when he isn’t scoring goals. Well, he has scored, but he hasn’t scored enough for Liverpool. He’s not playing well but I don’t want to single him out unnecessarily. Because there are others whose levels have dropped as well so they have to get back up there.
Do you think there is a concern how much Liverpool are relying on Raheem Sterling even though he’s not yet 20?
He’s only a young boy, and he’s a brilliant young boy but I don’t think they are overly reliant on him. They need all the other players to play well collectively as a team. We’re talking about what happened recently and last three games they have lost them all – against Newcastle, Real Madrid and Chelsea. They need not one player, but 11 players and those on the bench to step up and start performing and play well.
Well, enough of the current Liverpool. Let’s talk about your career, Steve. A burning question here, how did the ‘Spice Boys’ tag come about?
I think it was just the press. To be honest, I played my first game in 1990 and the tag came about in 1997 and I was playing quite a bit before that. It didn’t bother me though. I know some of the boys didn’t like it; some couldn’t care less about it. It’s just a tag coined 20 years ago and unfortunately it stayed with whoever was involved.
One of the ‘Spice boys’, David James, was recently reported to be declared bankrupt. Have you heard anything from him?
I know David very well to be very honest, and I don’t want to comment on his personal situation because nobody seems to know what’s going on really. He’s playing in India at the moment and he’s doing very well; I speak to him regularly. Suffice to say, he’s fine and very healthy.
That’s good to hear, Steve. Moving on to the latter part of your career - Real Madrid - how was experience there and what was the main factor behind that move considering you were doing terrific for Liverpool?
Real Madrid was great. The main thing professionally was that when I played for Liverpool I didn’t play in the Champions League because we weren’t in it. So I needed to move abroad to actually accomplish my dream of playing at the highest level for the best team, and that was with Real Madrid. It was a wonderful time for me and it was a wonderful move.
And do you think you were unfairly casted aside because of the Galactico Policy? Do you think you would have done well in that team?
Yeah, we played well because we were successful and we won trophies. Before the Galacticos, we won 2 European Cups. That’s why the whole policy is complete nonsense.
Speaking of it being nonsense – the biggest story coming from it was the fact that Real Madrid seemed to crumble the moment they released Claude Makelele. Just how huge a miss do you think he was for that team?
Claude Makelele was not considered a Galactico, but he was probably the most important player in the Real Madrid team. He was an incredibly important player and a fantastic player. You don’t really appreciate what he did on the football field until many years later and then it was too late. He was a great footballer, of course.
So the fact that Real Madrid lost him and sold a lot of players at the time before they went through 4 or 5 years winning nothing proves that it [the Galactico policy] was a load of nonsense.
Considering that you played in both Spain and England, what do you think is the big difference in football between both countries?
I was fortunate to play for both Liverpool and Real Madrid. The tradition of both teams is that they have to score goals and entertain the fans, so that hasn’t changed. There’s always a lot of pressure when playing for both teams. I would probably say that it’s a little bit slower in Spain and they concentrate on the attack more and in England there’s probably a more hard and full-blooded work all over the field. Defensively, people close you down all the time so it’s probably harder in England.
And which style do you prefer most?
I like all of them to be honest. I think all of the countries have got their methods. I think the Italian style is great for their defensive work. It’s not great visually to watch but you know, it’s a wonderful art of defending and it’s a very important art. I like to watch them.
Considering the fact that you have played with a number of great strikers in the game, who do you think is the best?
It’s impossible to say. I played with Ian Rush, [Robbie] Fowler and [Michael] Owen and they were some of the greatest in Liverpool’s history that I’ve played with. The Brazilian Ronaldo, Raul [at Real Madrid], these were people who set records all over the world. Meanwhile, Alan Shearer was a fantastic centre-forward for England, so it’s very hard for me to say who the best is.
Looking ahead to the event this Saturday, how does it feel to be playing in an 11-a-side game once again with your former Liverpool team-mates?
It’s actually great. It’s great to see Didi Hamann behind you, and Fowler, Patrik Berger, Steve Harkness, Vladimir Smicer... I’m really looking forward to see them to be honest. Mix up, have a laugh and joke around, to talk about old times and of course play football. We are looking forward to getting onto the field and having a really good game.
Do you miss playing with them?
To be honest I did not play with a lot of them. But of course it’s really nice to see them, and I still play a bit of football with Fowler and train at Liverpool occasionally. So I’m looking forward to the opportunity of being the same pitch as a lot of the players who I haven’t played with yet.
You mentioned Robbie Fowler and obviously, you played with him at Liverpool and of course Manchester City afterwards. Just how important is it to have a close friend in the same team as you?
I don’t think it’s necessarily that important. The main thing is that he’s a very, very good football player. If you have those kinds of centre-forwards who score every time you put the ball in the box in your team, it makes you look a better player. Whether it was Robbie, whether it was Ian Rush, or whether it was Michael Owen, it was vitally important to have that centre-forward in front of you. It was Suarez last year for Liverpool and Fernando Torres before that, so let’s hope they [Liverpool] get one very soon.
Last one, Steve. When Michael Owen came to Singapore a few months ago, he told FourFourTwo that he had one of the best careers an Englishman could ever have. Do you think the same applies for your career as well?
Well, to a certain extent, yes. I’m the most successful Englishman to play abroad. I won Champions Leagues, I won FA Cups, I won League Cups. I think when you play football, all you want to do is to be successful and try to win trophies. I’m very fortunate to win what I won, so yeah, I think I have had a better career than most Englishmen.
Steve McManaman and the Liverpool Legends will be appearing at The Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.