Steve McManaman: The Spice Boy Who Terrorised Sir Alex Ferguson and Ran the Show for Liverpool

Everyone in the Premiership knows that if you stop McManaman, you stop Liverpool.Bryan Robson

A club so accustomed to victory, the years between Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard hardly live long in the memory for Liverpool.

The 1970s saw the Reds topple Europe for the first time, and in the 1980s, under Paisley and Fagan, they dominated like never before. The turn of the century had Rafa Benitez and Istanbul, while the 2010s brought about the toppling of Manchester United, and that night in Madrid.

In that company, the 1990s is the runt of the litter for Liverpool historians, who would be remiss in speaking of Graeme Souness and Roy Evans in the same conversation as the great managers who came before and after.

It's easy to forget, then, that for a long time throughout the club's forgotten decade, they played some of the most fluid, cutting-edge football English football had seen.

They lacked ruthlessness and winning mentality possessed by Arsenal and United at the time, but played with a characteristic swagger and reckless abandon that was the envy of those around them.

At the heart of it was a player whose reputation remains tainted by the way his Anfield career burned out, yet for ten years could claim to be the best England had to offer.

Steve McManaman epitomised the way Liverpool wanted to play. His arrogance often crossed the line, yet he was as gifted with the ball at his feet as any player in his generation, and could gracefully drift past an opposing full-back without even shaking off his hangover.

After exploding onto the scene in the early 90s under Souness, he was the Merseyside counterpart to Man Utd's Ryan Giggs. Their eventual trophy hauls may fail to suggest it, but the two were equal in both ability and influence throughout English football's transitional decade.

McManaman won Liverpool games, and trophies, by himself. Despite being the youngest player on the pitch, he turned in an ostentatious man of the match showing in the final of the 1992 FA Cup, while the 1995 League Cup final would later go on to be monikered 'the McManaman Final' after he took Bolton Wanderers for a waltz.

His three swashbuckling assists in that 4-3 victory over Newcastle summarised his creative brilliance, while his influence over Liverpool in the mid 90s was so great that even Sir Alex Ferguson famously feared him. The United boss would dedicate pre-match team talks solely to stifling the curly-haired renegade, who so often terrorised his team.

Few knew what McManaman's best position was, and by 1995/96, it was a conundrum Evans stopped trying to solve. Acknowledging his brilliance, the manager took the shackles off, deploying 'Macca' in a free role behind Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler.

He registered 15 assists in that season's Premier League - the most any Liverpool player has managed to date.

He may be a victim of the era in which he rose to prominence, as the height of lad culture took hold. In 1999, McManaman left Liverpool with his dirty laundry in the air, his off-field antics having gained him more tabloid inches than his performances in his final days at Anfield.

The long-running legal battle to secure his Bosman transfer to Real Madrid soured things further, yet when Liverpool fans of a certain generation think of McManaman, they don't think of the controversy; they think of him sitting down defenders, surging down the wing, feeding through a pass and getting 40,000 people off their seat.

I don’t think we perhaps appreciated him as much as we should have done really. He was a class player, one of the best players I had played with.Jamie Redknapp

With the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, the rest of it is just noise.

It's the good memories that matter, and even despite a dearth of silverware in an era defined by decline and heartache, there were more than enough of those to go around.

Source : 90min