x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Callum McManaman is the man of the moment at Wigan Athletic

Wigan Winger’s propensity to get hyped up before a game can manifest into sinister actions, writes Richard Jolly.

Callum McManaman did well in FA Cup, above right, but went for a controversial tackle in the game against Everton in Premier League.Simon Bellis / AP Photo
Callum McManaman did well in FA Cup, above right, but went for a controversial tackle in the game against Everton in Premier League.Simon Bellis / AP Photo

The journey from fame to infamy took eight days. On Saturday, March 9, Callum McManaman was being celebrated. On Sunday, March 17, he was castigated. Now he has a notoriety.

And, two weeks ago, to most who were not Wigan Athletic supporters, he was an unknown. It has been quite a month.

To recap, the 21-year-old winger first scored in Wigan's surprise 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final over Everton. Then, granted a belated maiden Premier League start against Newcastle United, he created Athletic's opening goal for Jean Beausejour.

So far, so good.

Then came the moment to bring him to the attention of a wider audience: a reckless lunge at Massadio Haidara that left the Newcastle left-back with suspected knee ligament damage and, to compound United's frustration.

"Bad" and "awful" were two of the words their manager, Alan Pardew used to describe it, managing director Derek Llambias opted for "extremely dangerous", and stronger language was almost certainly deployed in a half-time fracas as Newcastle's assistant manager, John Carver, attempted to confront McManaman.

Amid widespread condemnation, Wigan voices were alone in supporting him.

"You couldn't meet a nicer boy," said his manager Roberto Martinez. "He doesn't have a bad bone."

His chairman Dave Whelan went further in a much-ridiculed interview. "He's an enthusiastic young boy," he said, deeming the youngster innocent.

“McManaman got the ball as clean as a whistle, then followed through and they collided.”

Until the last few weeks, the most notable thing about McManaman was a surname that is both unusual and familiar.

Two decades ago, a rangy runner from Merseyside emerged, showing a refreshing willingness to take defenders on. An Everton fan, he became known as a Liverpool player before moving on to Real Madrid. He was Steve McManaman.

A year before he won the FA Cup, a distant relative, Callum, was born in Huyton, the suburb that produced Steven Gerrard.

Like the most famous member of his extended family, he also grew up an Everton fan and, 12 days ago, the Toffees had a reason to rue the one that got away.

"I was there for nine years and was released when I was 16 and it broke my heart, but I still look out for Everton's results," he said. "I was there from the age of seven and I was gutted when it happened, but you just have to get on with it."

He did so in a place closely connected to Liverpool. There are plenty of supporters of both Merseyside clubs in Wigan; the most successful product of Athletic's youth system, Leighton Baines, made a £6 million (Dh33.2m) move to Everton in 2007. At the same time, and to rather less fanfare, McManaman made the opposite trip.

"It was make or break when I left. I either packed it in or went and found another club and Wigan came knocking and I haven't looked back," he said.

In the final game of the 2008/09 season, he was granted a debut. He made a brief cameo in an otherwise forgettable 1-0 win over Portsmouth and became Wigan's youngest Premier League player.

After Martinez's appointment, however, he reverted to the reserves. But the Spaniard was encouraging, extending McManaman's contract after he opened his Wigan account in an FA Cup win against Hull City in January 2011. Selected as a striker then, he spent more time on the flanks when Martinez farmed him out to Championship side Blackpool in the 2011/12 season.

This season Martinez felt he was ready to be involved more. On one occasion, that came as a surprise.

McManaman had been informed he would not face Huddersfield in the fifth round of the FA Cup. He went to score and win man of the match but the disinformation was a psychological ploy by Martinez.

"He's a real street footballer and he gets so hyped up," the manager said. "When he played in the previous rounds he hadn't been able to last 90 minutes. We told him he wasn't playing so he could have a good night's sleep."

McManaman kept his place, however, and scored their second goal in the 3-0 win at Everton.

For Wigan's Under 21 coach Graham Barrow, it was an exhilarating moment. "I was filled with pride when Callum scored and I was just so pleased for him because he's a wonderful lad to work with," he said.

Yet when Barrow next found himself thrust in the news, it was for being red-carded in the clash with Carver as he tried to defend his protege. Few others are doing likewise. Spared a ban by the English FA, McManaman is Wembley bound but the attacker is a man under attack.


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