The date May 11, 2013 will long remain in the memories of Wigan Athletic supporters. A tactical masterstroke by Roberto Martinez accompanied by a fitting late winner saw the underdogs pull off a shocking upset, one which could possibly be the best in their history. While Ben Watson will be the name to go down in Wigan’s history, Callum McManaman is the one who really deserves the plaudits.
Throughout the game he terrorized the defense and in particular Gael Clichy, who seemed to not know how to cope with the young winger. Although this was only one game in a season of many, it really summed up how well McManaman has played for Wigan over their late season resurgence, and what he brings to the table. At 22 years old, the former Everton youth player is showing signs that he can become a top player, and if he continues to do what he has done best over this short period of the season, it won’t be long before a bigger Premier League club comes calling.
Many were introduced to McManaman through his apparent horror tackle on Newcastle defender Massadio Haïdara. After a poorly timed challenge that appeared to badly injure the Frenchman’s leg, referee Mark Halsey chose to let the incident go, not even giving Newcastle a free kick. After that very tackle, both McManaman and Halsey received heavy criticism from the British press, and when asked by reporters to comment on the incident, Martinez put it down to the player’s “enthusiasm.”
Looking back now, Martinez’s comments were spot on and have more truth to them than originally thought. In a handful of recent games, including the FA Cup Final, McManaman has shown admirable commitment and desire, and you only have to look at his box to box movement against Manchester City to prove that. In today’s game, a player who sacrifices himself for the team’s betterment is very desirable, especially at the top of the table. Even though most teams have a player of that type, McManaman also has other quality aspects of his game that make him a potential star.
Alongside his high commitment and desire, McManaman also has pace, stamina, and skill, all of which were on display in Wigan’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham in late April. Not only did McManaman provide a crucial goal for his team but he was also a constant threat on the wing. On several occasions, Spurs’s defense could not cope with his pace and skill, allowing him enough space to create vital chances, even if they were not converted. He even created chances through skill alone and was able to get the better of Kyle Naughton to get around the left back and into space. Again, although this is only a small sample size, it proves that he can provide what most clubs expect from a winger at the top level.
What sets him apart though is his tactical awareness. In both the FA Cup Final and the game versus Tottenham, McManaman looked for space when off the ball, and was positioned in a way that allowed Wigan an option to counterattack quickly. He also moved inside often and was ready and waiting to provide a final ball to open up the defense. For a 22 year old, who is far from the finished product, this is superb to see.
Despite his promising development, McManaman does need to refine himself further. His crossing could use a touching up and better decision making will only come over time. For now though, the glimpses of brilliance he has shown provide a brief look into the future, and make him deserving of his recent England U21’s call up. Hopefully he’ll be able to shrug off his injury to play. Wigan’s relegation may also prove to be the perfect chance for him to move on to a bigger club, but even if he decides to stay on, a move away will be the only way to fulfill his obvious potential.
While personally I would love to see him at the very top, it would likely result in less playing time, and deny him the chance to grow further. Everton could be one option, and look like a perfect fit even without David Moyes. If Roberto Martinez is the Merseyside club’s next manager, it could be a very real possibility that he elects to bring his young star along for the ride. Where ever he goes, here’s to hoping we will soon recognize the name Callum McManaman as a star for both club and country.