Footballer Steve McManaman

Successful soccer star on life off the pitch

 In People

For all but a glorious, golden few sports stars, fame is a fickle and highly volatile commodity, here today and gone mañana. I once saw an example of this first hand, while having a quiet pint in his local pub with a footballer whose antics – on and off the field – had regularly sent the sales of tabloid newspapers rocketing. Brandishing a scrap of paper and pen, a middle-aged autograph hunter politely interrupted our chat, enquiring of the former England star, “Excuse me, but didn’t you used to be…er?…er?” “Yeah, I used to be, but not any more,” replied the ex-midfield maestro, teasingly. “Oh, thank heavens for that,” sighed the amnesiac fan, trousering his Biro. “I couldn’t remember who you were.”

Steve McManaman is another who doesn’t play the fame game too seriously. He and his wife Victoria never displayed the least desire for stellar celebrity, Beckham-style, and their reward is the contentment of Mallorca, where they live with their 11-month old daughter, Ella, in a secluded villa in Son Vida.

Two years after he last kicked a soccer ball in earnest, Steve is still a familiar face around the island. And that situation is unlikely to change, thanks to his new role as a big-match analyst for satellite TV channel, Setanta, which has won the coverage rights to a tranche of top, English Premiership games.

“I never saw myself as a telly pundit,” insists Steve, modestly. “But I was flattered they wanted me and it’s an exciting challenge, so I said I’d give it a go.”

The affable, 35-year-old Liverpudlian isn’t backward in coming forward with firm opinions, as armchair soccer fans are discovering. However, neither is he one to deliberately court controversy for the sake of furthering his reputation. Steve – long dubbed ‘Macca’, a soubriquet shared only by another product of Merseyside’s talent mill, Sir Paul McCartney – is still Britain’s most successful soccer export.

He remains the only Englishman to have won the Champions League twice with a foreign club, as he did with Real Madrid in 2000 and 2002. He was a Primera Liga winner twice, too – in 2001 and 2003 – and lifted the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup during his days in the lily-white strip of ‘Los Merengues’.

Added to the 37 games he played for England, plus 364 appearances for Liverpool, Steve is assured a page in the beautiful game’s illustrious history. Not even a miserable swansong, where injury blighted his days at Manchester City, could taint the memory of the magic he conjured on the pitch. But, by his own, exacting standards, he could have done better. That is partly due to a succession of England managers too blinkered to fully appreciate Steve’s quicksilver skills and a regime at the Bernabeu over reliant on its fabled Galacticos.

Steve quit Madrid in 2003 and, tellingly, Real’s domination of the Spanish game and Europe spluttered into eclipse at the height of the celebrity era of Figo, Raul, Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham. “The problem at Real,” reveals Steve, “wasn’t the coaches – they were in and out like yo-yos – but the players. They were the ones really in charge of the club. “There was too much emphasis on PR and not enough on training, discipline and fitness. “We simply didn’t get the chance to work hard enough at our role as footballers.” But Steve acknowledges a deep debt to Real. His transfer there, in 1999 – schemed by his friend and agent, Simon Fuller, who guided the Spice Girls to fame and later conceived the Pop Idol TV series – catapulted him to wealth beyond the wildest dreams of most journeymen footballers.

Steve’s four-year contract reportedly netted him 15 million euros and Forbes Magazine once listed him as the world’s sixth, highest-earning sportsman. The move also offered him a chance to broaden his cultural horizons, learn Spanish – which he speaks fluently, albeit with indelible Scouse undertones – and discover Mallorca.

“I love Spain, I love Madrid – it’s a wonderful city,” explains Steve. “But Victoria and I wanted somewhere less hectic and more relaxing, so we bought the house here as a holiday home, with a view to living here permanently sometime. “Mallorca’s marvellous and I never tire of the island. I love the sun, the scenery, the culture, the life here. And, of course, there’s Palma. It’s 10 minutes down the road from home and it’s a brilliant place.”

The McManamans married here in 2002 at Palma’s medieval La Seu Cathedral, feted by icons from soccer’s international aristocracy and showbiz friends from the couple’s world beyond the game. But, as an insight into their high-minded principles, both pointedly refused lucrative offers to flog exclusive rights to photo coverage of the big day to any of the glossy, gossip magazines.

“We could have earned plenty out of it, but mags like Hello and OK are non-starters for me,” says Steve. “I have very strong views about my privacy and I’d never go down that route.” Victoria, too, echoes her husband’s prosaic attitude to celebrity and is about as far removed from the WAG image of a soccer star’s consort as is imaginable. A success story in her own right, she is a qualified barrister, one-time law lecturer at Madrid University, businesswoman, linguist – she speaks three languages – and innovator. In Manchester, where the couple have a pied-a-terre flat, Victoria is involved in developing an animated adventure series for kids’ TV called The Bumblees, which will be targeted at an audience of pre-school youngsters.

Meanwhile, apart from his own television commitments, Steve is busy with various commercial interests, including the directorship of a Hong Kong-based company with a 29% stake in Birmingham City FC. But, mirroring his ethos as a player, Steve’s never less than industrious.

He’s an avid reader of almost everything he lays eyes on; he likes the cinema and art, but confesses to being a hack golfer and poor swimmer, which accounts for his lack of desire to own a yacht. Steve and Victoria reserve their greatest passion for their toddler daughter and their desire for more children. “Mallorca’s a perfect place to bring up a family,” notes Steve. “It’s a very safe environment, the schools are good and the climate is ideal. “So my main aim now is to spend more time with Victoria and take a hands-on role in raising my daughter.”

It’s a new position to play for the footballer-turned-family guy. And Steve needs no reminding that the role of dad requires a radically different set of skills to those that won him fame and fortune at Real Madrid.

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