Just as the sun reliably rises in the east and sets in the west, so too will the football talent of every generation ever be inexorably drawn to the perennial powerhouses of Real Madrid and Barcelona. It is the rare elite footballer who is able to resist the beckoning: the prospect of running out into a modern day Coliseum of the Santiago Bernabéu to the roars of 80,000, or whipping around the Camp Nou with a world class XI capable of going toe-to-toe with virtually any national team.
Former Red great, Steve McManaman, admitted to being no different than the many who have trodden that worn path to Spanish shores before him in a recent interview on the Big Interview podcast hosted by Graham Hunter.
“It wasn’t financial, because the money Liverpool offered me to stay was virtually on a par. I wanted to leave. At that time I had never played in the Champions League, which was a huge thing,” he added, “I was playing really good football and I needed to test myself. I felt that I needed to go.”
“I wanted to go abroad, I didn’t want to play for somebody against Liverpool. I was playing good football and I had the right kind of clubs interested in me — Barcelona, Madrid and Juventus.
“They were European Champions, World Champions, they were the best team in the world. That white kit, Di Stefano, Puskas, all that. And so it was Madrid.”
It’s hard to blame him, especially considering the situation at Anfield at the time, where the star midfielder shone on some underachieving Liverpool squads. As a member of the infamous “Spice Boys,” the 1999 move to Madrid was in fact the culmination of over two years of turmoil between club and player, filled with acrimonious contract negotiations and almost transfers to the likes of Barcelona and Juventus.
Although he eventually went on to become just the 2nd British player to run out for Real Madrid, hitting the heights of European football he so dreamed of, Liverpool still retained a special place in his affections as one of the most storied clubs in all of world football.
“To train, to play, to mix with these players as an apprentice and then join them as a professional they taught me everything about football. When you play for Liverpool or Real Madrid, the history is all around you.”