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World Cup memories: Steve McManaman

Former England player Steve McManaman got his inspiration as a young footballer from watching Brazilian legend Zico at the 1982 World Cup.
Former England player Steve McManaman got his inspiration as a young footballer from watching Brazilian legend Zico at the 1982 World Cup.
ESPN FC writer Roger Bennett visited with players from past World Cups to collect their memories of football's biggest stage. The following is an excerpt from Roger's conversation with former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester City player Steve McManaman.

While his national team career never mirrored his stellar club career, the Englishman points to the great Brazil team of 1982 as the determining factor in desire to excel on the world's stage.

"Being English, I don't have many good memories as a player or a fan. I was too young to witness Bobby Moore lift the trophy at Wembley in 1966. But the World Cup is central to who I am as a player. The first tournament I remember was Argentina 1978. Everyone talks about how good Holland were but I do not remember them -- just the ticker tape pouring down from the terraces and Mario Kempes scoring to win the cup on home turf. It felt like the stadium was exploding.

My love of World Cups grew from then on. I remember every tiny detail. Gerry Armstrong scoring for Northern Ireland to shock Spain, Norman Whiteside becoming the youngest player ever, England doing well in 1990.

But by far the most important memory was watching Brazil in 1982. That team was the best I have ever seen. Watching them felt new and exciting. I was ten. I was a mad, mad football fan. I had no dream of playing for my country. I was a decent footballer but I was miles away from playing in a World Cup. My dream back then was simple: to play for Everton. You never thought for one second it could be you lining up to play Italy, Brazil or Argentina.

I was innocent back then. My life revolved around watching football and playing football. I would look at the television in wonder, marveling at how good Zico was, how elegant Socrates seemed, and how Junior struck the ball. That they did not win it all -- they got beat by Italy and that Paolo Rossi hat trick -- but it made me love them all the more. They were the greatest ever but they were flawed. They lost to a team that were more organized and who could counter-attack. I love that they were not a team that just destroyed everyone they played. Having had a career I appreciate all the more to have been able to watch them as I think it taught me if you work hard you can beat your opponents.

You need to understand what it was like to watch football back then. Football was very local in those days. We had never heard of the foreign players in England. Before every World Cup you would get excited to see who the next great Brazilian number ten would be -- then we would see Zico for the first time. Who is their captain? And we would discover Socrates... and players like Falcao. Watching him bend the ball into the top corner of the net would make us gasp. We had never seen anyone do that before. The spectacle made the world feel like a much bigger place.

I was playing for Liverpool's City Team Under 11s back then. I was a center forward. A tiny but skilfull number ten. Until the World Cup I modeled myself on Everton's number ten, Duncan McKenzie. But from Spain '82 on I was Zico and I would try and take on players just like him.

You have to understand that back then I was just a working class boy from Liverpool. I played football all day in school then would come home and play in the streets with my mates. With a wall as a goal. All I knew about watching the game was going to see Everton. I knew exactly how good they were. So to flick on the television and see these mythical gold shirts and watch the players strike free kicks or pass with the outside of their boot -- things you never saw in English football and that you would never have dreamt of trying on the playground, it was like living a dream. This was football made on beaches. I realized we just did not have those kind of beaches in Liverpool."