In the 2002-03 season, Steve McManaman was on the verge of lifting his second league title with Real Madrid when his good friend Robbie Fowler decided to visit his old Liverpool mate in Madrid.
When Los Blancos beat Athletic Club 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu to win the La Liga title, Fowler was in for a night he could have never imagined.
“It was absolutely mental, to be honest,” Fowler said.
“Steve McManaman is a massive mate of mine but with my playing commitments, I hadn’t been able to visit him. I was on holiday in Portugal with a family member at that time so we made plans to go over there.
“Madrid ended up winning but the night was much more memorable than the game. I was in the lounge afterwards when Macca walks in with two Real Madrid T-shirts and says to us: ‘Put them on, you’re coming on the bus.’
“So Real Madrid are celebrating and doing their tour of the city on their bus with hundreds of thousands fans lining the streets and there’s myself and my cousin – two little scallywags from Toxteth – with them going up to the fountain in the middle of Madrid. The atmosphere was amazing. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
“I think the Real lads knew who I was but my cousin got a few dodgy looks! It was fantastic,” he added.
“Real Madrid have just won the league, their players are around the fountain, celebrating the title, and you can hear these lads chanting ‘Fowler, Fowler’. It was a great night. It was surreal actually.”
Four years before Fowler and his cousin arrived in the Spanish capital for the end-of-season bash, Steve McManaman went house hunting in Madrid ahead of his move to Real Madrid.
Getting on a plane back to England, McManaman was spotted by some Spanish media at Barajas airport in Madrid; he was set to leave Liverpool for a new adventure after nine years in the first team.
McManaman was a leader at Liverpool and would quickly become a team player at Madrid. “It was easy to settle in, football became easier,” he told journalist Graham Hunter on The Big Interview.
“With Madrid, we had seven players who could make things happen. There were no egos – I fitted in with no problem at all. I felt it was home immediately.”
Johan Cruyff was a fan of the English creator, and Barcelona wanted to sign him from Liverpool but he won’t have regretted his move to Bernabéu and he threw himself into life at Real Madrid.
Real Madrid book place in Champions League final
Madrid sealed their place in the 2000 Champions League final thanks to goals from French striker and former Arsenal man Nicolas Anelka in both legs of the semi-final against Bayern Munich.
In the other semi-final, Valencia knocked Spanish rivals Barcelona out of the competition thanks to an unforgettable 4-1 win in the first leg at Mestalla.
A Miguel Ángel Angulo brace and goals from Gaizka Mendieta and Claudio López helped Los Che advance.
Los Blancos arrived in Paris with seven Champions League titles and ten finals under their belt; Valencia were heading into their first final in the competition.
At the Stade de France on 24 May 2000, Vicente del Bosque, only in the job at the Bernabéu five months, after replacing Welshman John Toshack, won the tactical battle against Héctor Cúper and his nervous-looking Valencia team.
McManaman was also nervous ahead of the final that came just 10 months after he joined the club. “I remember being nervous before the 2000 final but my team-mates were used to the pressure and so relaxed. They were having massages, playing music and enjoying a beer at 1 am. In England, we’d have been in our rooms at 10.30 pm the night before a big game so I thought it was the most extraordinary thing but, that’s Spanish life, they do that kind of thing.”
In the 67th minute of the Champions League final, the ball fell to McManaman on the edge of the box, before he produced a spectacular scissor kick that flew into the far corner of the net to double Real Madrid’s lead.
Raúl and Redondo
At Madrid, McManaman was deployed in a more central role, playing alongside the elegant Argentinian, Fernando Redondo, and Raúl, who was operating in a deeper role behind Anelka and Fernando Morientes in attack.
With Teka on the front of the black Madrid shirt – and technique in abundance – the Merseyside Madridista put Vicente del Bosque’s men in the driving seat going into the final 20 minutes against Valencia after a Morientes header at the back post from a Míchel Salgado cross from the right in the first half opened the scoring.
“I was quite adept at those types of volleys,” said McManaman, speaking on BT Sport podcast James Richardson’s Kings of Europe. “I found them quite comfortable. I had to have both feet off the ground so I could elevate myself, because I wanted to hit the ball as early as I could. The more time you let the ball drop, the more time somebody can get a block. So I quite happy to jump in the air and get the volley away. I could do it quite comfortably. Even though it’s a hard volley to attempt, I felt I could do that quite easily.
“It wasn’t just thrashed at. I could control the ball really easily, and the way I jumped up, I knew I could control my feet so I wasn’t going to go under the ball, it was never going to go high. It was always a case of just getting the placement in.
“I could hit them hard and I could hit them without bouncing, but this one, with the bodies in the box, it was about diverting it away from my teammates and defenders and trying to place it into the corner.”
Just eight minutes after McManaman’s super strike, Raúl ran alone from the halfway line, dropped his shoulder to go by Valencia netminder Santiago Cañizares, and made it 3-0.
McManaman added: “I look back, that made it 2-0, which gave us a little breathing space in the game, and I ran towards my family. I very rarely celebrated when I scored goals but I celebrated that particular day, and I ran over to my father and all the family.
“Watching Liverpool score in Champions Leagues… In 1981, I was nine. In 1984, I’m 12, and then I go watch Everton for my first time at Wembley. To ever think you’re going to get to finals…
“Looking back, it’s definitely a pinch yourself moment.”
With the help of the English midfielder, who moved to Spain for a new challenge and life experience, Madrid defeated Valencia to lift their eighth Champions League title.
McManaman produced a moment of magic in Paris, on the biggest stage of them all, and he played football with a smile on his face – something Madridistas remember him fondly for to this day.
Kieran Quaile | GSFN