Apr 15, 2013, 11:04 AM EDT
How good is Wigan’s Callum McManaman?
In short, ridiculously good.
Some may find it hard to believe that Wigan hold the keys to one of the Premier League’s next Ferraris but anyone who has really watched McManaman knows that to be the case. With lightning pace, sliky skills and a nose for goal, the 21 year old has the feel of an English Mario Götze and is quickly blossoming into one of the Premier League’s best young players.
After making his league debut against Portsmouth as an 18 year old in 2009, the Wigan product (who was released by Everton as a 16 year old) saw a handful of cameo appearances over the next few years before being sent to Blackpool on loan in the fall of 2011. His 13 match stint for The Tangerines prompted Roberto Martinez to recall McManaman back to the Latics that Spring, handing him three appearances with the club.
This season the Huyton-born winger has broken out after a series of eye-opening performances in the Capital One and FA Cup. The turning point came on March 9th when Wigan romped Everton 3-0 in the FA Cup quarter-finals at Goodison Park. There, McManaman scored a wonder goal when he outsprinted Sylvain Distin and expertly nipped the ball past a sprawling Jan Mucha. His display against the Toffees earned McManaman his first league start in the Latics 2-1 win over Newcastle and he hasn’t looked back since – starting each of Wigan’s next three matches.
Although he has yet to open his scoring account in league, McManaman is very much a goal scorer. On Saturday he turned the Millwall defense inside-out, cutting them up with devastating quickness, ankle-breaking cuts and a Cruyff-esque understanding of space and time. He swept in on goal on numerous occasions, drawing two excellent first-half saves from Millwall’s David Forde. In the 50th minute McManaman’s inside cut was so vicious that it sent two Millwall defenders sliding out of play but the winger’s curled the ensuing shot just over the bar. Redemption finally came in the 78th minute when Jordi Gomez slipped a clever pass through for McManaman, who, with a full head of steam, managed to keep his balance and juke Forde before slotting home into an empty net.
McManaman is infamous for his brutal studs up tackle on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara on March 17th. The ensuing outrage prompted many to depict the Wigan man as a thug, which his manager alleges is completely at odds with the youngster’s personality. “Callum McManaman is a simple guy”, said Martinez. “He is not someone who plays football to feed his ego. He is not someone who is always checking the press and what the media is saying.”
Martinez describes McManaman as a true lover of the game, someone who is happiest so long as he has a football by his side. “When people hear the name, they just get a picture for the wrong reasons,” said the manager. The tackle with Haidara “was just the wrong place at the wrong time.”
By reaching the FA Cup final, Wigan have punched their ticket to next year’s Europa League. It’s a stage where so many young players introduce themselves to the rest of Europe and one that McManaman will certainly be looking forward to. Transfer rumors concerning McManaman have yet to start flying but it shouldn’t be long before everyone in their Premier League is trying to get their hands on Wigan’s young superstar.
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