Following a season to remember for Wigan's attacking midfielder, Vincent Ralph takes a closer look at Callum McManaman.
Football has had its fair share of transformations, but rarely are they as quick as that of Wigan’s Callum McManaman.
I have to admit I knew little of the 22-year-old before he was thrust into the headlines for an ill-timed tackle on Newcastle United’s Massadio Haidara back in March. And yet suddenly he found fame through vilification.
The tackle was appalling – a thigh-high studs-first effort that missed the ball by at least a foot. But in its aftermath, McManaman seemed to be castigated more for his lack of punishment than the act itself.
Had he seen red, it would have generated significantly less column inches; but as with any perceived injustice, the failure of referee Mark Halsey to send the player off made McManaman that week’s monster. When the FA also failed to deliver retrospective action, the player received a fresh batch of vitriol.
And yet less than two months on, McManaman was crowned man-of-the-match in his side’s FA Cup triumph over both Manchester City and adversity. A performance that led to an England under-21 call-up and this from his manager Roberto Martinez:
“He doesn’t care about wearing the best shoes or driving the best car, but give him a football and he is happy. He is one of the big diamonds in English football.”
Not bad for a player previously branded a thug.
Following a loan spell at Blackpool last year, McManaman has returned to the DW Stadium with that style I have always admired in our country’s best young footballers. He plays without fear, without the limitations too many players impose on themselves.
He has been aided considerably by Martinez, a man who admires football played the right way.
You sense his coaching technique with the young midfielder is simply telling him to play, to do what he clearly adores.
This season will be known as McManaman’s break-out year. It will be known as the year that Wigan upset the odds to claim the FA Cup. And it will be known for something else, too. Something the Latics’ have escaped so many times and yet this time have been unable to avoid .
That word doesn’t have a place in this article. This is about McManaman. And after the season he has had, disappointment shouldn’t get a look-in.
How good has McManaman been this season? And will he remain with the Latics next year?
image: © illarterate