Callum McManaman: Whatever happened to Wigan’s shining star? 

Rewind to the 2012/13 season and Callum McManaman was just starting to make waves in professional football. Nowadays, most younger fans won’t even know his name. Here we look at his fall from grace. 

Bursting on to the scene 

McManaman came through the ranks at his local club, Wigan. It was a slow burn. He made his Premier League debut back in 2009 as an 18-year-old. His next real taste of top level football didn’t come until some 40 months later as he claimed his first assist in senior football. Even then, most of his appearances came from the subs bench with the young winger completing 90 minutes just once. 

The exception to the rule around his limited time on the grass was in the FA Cup. Roberto Martinez gave McManaman starts in every match on route to the final with the only game time he missed being 50 minutes against Everton in the quarter-final. That was only because Wigan were three goals to the good already. 

When the final against Man City eventually rolled around, Martinez kept that faith in McManaman. He was duly rewarded. Ben Watson stole the headlines with his late header than won the game but it was McManaman that had terrorised the City backline all game with his blistering pace both a threat going forwards and a tool to remove pressure off his own defence. Wigan had won the FA Cup but couldn’t keep their heads above water in the Premier League. Either way, Callum McManaman had arrived. 

There is no place like home

Despite crashing into the Championship, McManaman had a healthy reputation and wasn’t short on offers of a move back to the Premier League. He rebuffed them all. The reason? He simply didn’t want to leave Wigan. It was his home; the player himself has since described it as a ‘comfort zone’. The season itself was full of ups and downs. A red card three minutes after coming on in the second game of the season was a particular low point but the campaign also gave him a first taste of European football with the Europa League.

McManaman was a key player for the team, which was managed by first Owen Coyle and then Uwe Rosler after Martinez left for Everton, but only managed to play the full 90 on five occasions whilst four league goal involvements probably wasn’t where McManaman was aiming. Wigan ended the season fifth. It was play-off heartache though as QPR beat them in the semi-finals. 

The 2014/15 campaign was a disaster. McManaman started superbly on a personal level with four goals in the opening five games but you could see frustration creeping in. On a team level, things were not clicking. When McManaman begrudgingly left his beloved Wigan for a Premier League return with West Brom the club had just four wins to their name from 27 attempts and were on their second manager of the season. By the end of the season, Wigan were relegated and Dave Whelan and co had appointed a third manager. McManaman though was on another journey.

Wasting away at West Brom 

West Brom boss Tony Pulis paid £6m to bring McManaman to the Hawthorns. His pace and trickery should, on paper, have proved a great asset to a direct and counter attacking team. It didn’t work out. In two years in West Brom colours, McManaman failed to complete 90 minutes on one occasion and left the club with just 25 appearances, three assists and zero goals to his name. 

The reason why he failed to make any impact at West Brom could be attributed to many factors. Some may lay blame with Pulis. After all, it was he who failed to give Serge Gnabry a fair crack of the whip but, then again, McManaman admits to ‘going home’ at every opportunity. Despite playing in the West Midlands he still based himself in the north. That’s about 100 miles – and two hours’ worth of driving – away.

Nobody can deny that will have an impact in how you do your job. The fact he never pulled up any trees during a loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday in his last few months as a Baggies player is further evidence there was more to this than a player, manager and club not being a good fit. 

Potentially good moves turning to disaster

Sunderland were a club in disarray when they signed McManaman in August 2017. They’d just been relegated to the Championship after a rather feeble showing the prior the season. McManaman was part of a rebuild that was supposed to help the Black Cats to promotion. Instead, the season became one of the worst campaigns in the clubs history. They crashed to back to back relegations. 

McManaman had performed okay though and earned a move back to Wigan. The Latics had just won League One under the tutelage of Paul Cook meaning McManaman would remain in England’s second tier. Things should have been good. McManaman was at the club he called his home. Paul Cook was a decent manager who played football the way that suited McManaman’s game. He still wasn’t getting much time on the grass though. Throughout the campaign, McManaman made 24 appearances in all competitions but only played 579 minutes; an average of 24 minutes a match. 

The player has since admitted that he actually thought he performed well in his second spell at Wigan but he became disillusioned being used as an impact sub regardless of how he performed. It didn’t matter how he trained in the week, Cook saw him as someone to bring a spark to matches late on and not a player to influence them for 90 minutes. The homecoming lasted just a year. McManaman joined Luton. 

A final crack at the English game

Like Wigan the year before, Luton had just made the step up from League One. Their gaffer at the time was Graeme Jones. The duo had worked together at Wigan whilst Jones was serving as Roberto Martinez’s assistant. He knew the real Callum McManaman. As a result, he was afforded more time to make his mark on games although he still only managed one 90 minutes in 26 attempts. He did, however, display flashes of what caused his hype early on in his career.

He averaged a direct goal involvement every 152 minutes in the shape of four goals – including an 87th minute goal in a 2-1 win over Wigan – and two assists. Luton avoided relegation by three points. McManaman’s goal involvements had helped them win six. Even at that high level analysis, you have to say he’d been a success. It didn’t stop him leaving though. 

Where is McManaman now? 

After completing the 2019/20 season, McManaman moved on from Luton on a free transfer. He joined Melbourne Victory, who are one of the biggest and best clubs in Australia, penning a two year deal. On his arrival, McManaman spoke of his excitement of a ‘great opportunity’.

In truth, the move is a reflection of how a bright spark can often fade into a run of the mill professional career. Victory are a big side on that side of the world but their levels are a million miles from what was once so close to McManaman’s grasp. His career has long been clouded with questions over whether he could rediscover that dazzling genius of 2013. Now he is now 29-years-old, it has sadly never been clearer that his peak was indeed that FA Cup final all those years ago. 

What might have been for Callum McManaman.

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