“FIRST I WENT LEFT, HE DID TOO. THEN I WENT RIGHT, AND HE DID TOO. THEN I WENT LEFT AGAIN, AND HE WENT TO BUY A HOT DOG.”
As you may have already guessed, this quote doesn’t belong to anyone involved in the 2013 FA Cup Final. It belongs to the ever-so modest Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Nevertheless, the Swede’s notorious quip does feel like the most appropriate way to summarise Callum McManaman’s Wembley afternoon against Manchester City’s Gael Clichy. The winger subjected the Frenchman to a tortuous 90 minutes, relentlessly tormenting the left-back at every opportunity.
Wembley, over the years, has seen its fair share of wondrous wingers produce scintillating performances. Performances that have long endured in the minds of those who witnessed them.
A McManaman had already won a man of the match award in a Wembley final, 18 years before Wigan’s cup success. Former Liverpudlian Galactico winger, Steve McManaman, lifted the 1995 League Cup with a performance to wow households on Merseyside.
Incidentally, in February of that year and a few months before Liverpool’s 1995 FA Cup win, Wigan Athletic oversaw new management. Dave Whelan, JJB Sports’ millionaire owner, purchased his local club. Whelan harnessed a change of fortunes that would ultimately propel the club from the doldrums of Division Three (now League Two) to the superstardom of the Premier League. An FA Cup triumph would follow nearly two decades on.
ROBERTO MARTINEZ COMES FULL-CIRCLE
In July 1995, Whelan orchestrated the surprising arrivals of three Spanish players. Wigan Athletic, a Third Division side, recruited Roberto Martinez, Jesus Seba, and Isidro Diaz, aptly christened ‘The Three Amigos.’
In a remarkable twist of fate, Martinez would become the Wigan manager in 2009 and guide his team to an FA Cup final four years later. The size of the task in front of them on that sunny afternoon in May was enormous.
Wigan Athletic, fervently fighting for survival at the foot of the Premier League in a lowly 18th place, would somehow have to overcome reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City. Possessing an array of formidable world-class talent, the blue half of Manchester sat as overwhelming favourites.
Yet it only took Callum McManaman ten minutes to demonstrate why this match would be anything but a comfortable City win.
A dart into the box and a deft cut-in from the right had centre-back Matija Nastasic reeling. Wigan’s number 15 nearly provided an opportunity to land an early sucker-punch and give the Latics the lead. The winger agonisingly curled the ball wide past the post with his left foot.
The chance had gone, but the seeds of doubt planted. McManaman was just getting started. His gameplan? Drop the shoulder. Beat the man. Repeat. Was it elaborate? Not quite, but it rendered poor Gael Clichy dumbstruck almost every time.
Towards the closing stages of the first half, another blistering burst of pace saw him fly past Nastasic, leaving the Serbian helpless on the ground. Mcmanaman found himself at a tight angle, one-on-one against Joe Hart.
What followed next was an exciting sequence of delightful dribbling, albeit a fruitless one. A feint and a drag-back with the winger’s right-foot dazzled Hart and Pablo Zabaleta, sending them sprawling to one side. Another cut-back, this time onto his left foot sent Hart and Nastasic mercifully plunging to his right before Zabaleta recovered to block the goal-bound shot.
It was turning into a masterful Wembley showing from the twenty-two-year-old against Premier League winning defenders. Belying City defenders with his relatively little top-level experience. With only 54 professional appearances to his name, the Latics wide-man was putting on a show.
Callum Mcmanaman Leaves His Mark
McManaman emerged for the second half, and it was noticeable that he had a bounce in his step. An extra verve to his vibrant dribbling. Appearing from the interval even more intent on wreaking havoc the only way he knew how: drop the shoulder, beat the man. Repeat. Clichy stood little chance.
The young Huyton-born winger heralds from the same part of Liverpool as FA Cup hero, Steven Gerrard, and looks set to replicate a similar performance. Mcmanaman had made Wembley his playground for the day. He was frolicking past City defenders with the same nonchalance that an infant skips around a school field during lunchtime.
Not a care or worry in the world, just the sole purpose of having fun. McManaman was having plenty of that this afternoon, and it was a pleasure to witness.
A sublime passage of play followed as he danced past David Silva and Clichy with some delectable footwork. Vincent Kompany successfully blocked the shot after desperately scrambling across the eighteen-yard box. McManaman was in full flow, and there was seemingly no way for City to stop it.
Zabaleta was in trouble. He had no choice but to scythe Mcmanaman down after the Englishman went through on goal in the 83rd minute. Zabaleta received a red card for his troubles. Man City’s Player of the Year watches as a tremendous campaign draws to an embarrassing close at the hands of the tricky wide-man.
The injury-time coup-de-grace was still to come. McManaman, with his last decisive act of the game, skated past Clichy yet again to earn his side a precious corner. It was somewhat befitting that with such a virtuoso performance; the winger would play a part in the team’s eventual breakthrough.
The corner was whipped into the box as substitute Ben Watson rose to write his name into FA Cup final folklore by heading past a dejected Joe Hart to score the most dramatic of late winners. It was the very least the Latics, especially McManaman, deserved for a thoroughly impressive display.
The mercurial winger has not seen his career reach the same mesmerising heights as his memorable cup-final outing. No longer at the DW Stadium, the twenty-nine-year-old can be seen plying his trade for Luton Town in the Championship. Callum McManaman has had uneventful spells at West Brom, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland, before having a brief second stint with Wigan.
However, there will be legions of Latics who will undoubtedly never forget just how marvellous he was on that glorious day. With every mazy dribble he embarked on, the more he managed to wriggle his way into the hearts of adoring fans. Callum Mcmanaman left the City defenders as beguiled as the majority watching the underdog spectacle unfold at home.
In the eyes of Wigan fans up and down the country, whatever path Mcmananman’s career takes, his wonderful antics fondly remembered for years to come.
A special afternoon that will always belong to Callum McManaman, Wigan’s Wembley Wizard.
Written by Joel Mians – @JoelMians