Steve McManaman: Nothing will top McCoy's Grand National win

A.P. McCoy won the Grand National at the 15th attempt on Don't Push It in 2010.
A.P. McCoy won the Grand National at the 15th attempt on Don't Push It in 2010.

In the second edition of his exclusive column on HorseRacing.net, Liverpool legend Steve McManaman looks ahead to Saturday’s big meeting at Aintree, before giving his views on everything going on in the world of football…

Anybody from Liverpool knows how big Aintree is on the social calendar, even if you’ve never been.

The Becher Chase is an amazing race in its own right, and it’s a really good pointer for the Grand National the following April. I remember watching Black Apalachi win it back in 2008 and I instantly added him to my National checklist; he went on to finish second in the big one a couple of years later, and when you see horses really take to those fences and fly over them, then it’s a really big clue. 

It seems to be common knowledge that I own a box at Aintree, but the rumours about me being next door to the Queen are untrue!

There’s nothing like a good rumour, is there?

I used to stay in the Queen Mother’s stand on the top floor but further along. There was a box in the very far corner and it was owned by Lord Derby.

It was nice, it was a bigger box than mine and it had steps going down, so it had a lot of terrace space. Of course, I knew the woman at Aintree and I asked her ‘Whose box is that?’ and she said ‘It’s Lord Derby’s, so you can’t have that because he’s a patron of the course’.

I didn’t think anything of it and then when they built those two beautiful new stands in the corner, they call them the Earl of Derby and the Earl of Sefton stands and Lord Derby moved his box into those new stands because it was named after him. His old box then became available, so I just took it over at the time. It was a beautiful box, but it wasn’t next to the Queen!

I used to invite a load of footballers, especially loads of my Liverpool teammates. Robbie Fowler came because we initially owned the box together before I took it over myself. Jason McAteer came and he met my sister-in-law there and he ended up getting married to her, but they were the first initial meetings. I’m playing Cupid as well you see, that’s what I’m doing in that box!

I have so many memories of Aintree, but the standout for me was watching A.P. McCoy winning the Grand National

He’s a mate of mine and he hadn’t won it for a long, long time - doing so at the 15th attempt to be precise. 

To see him suffer so many times, like on Clan Royale when he was well clear before being taken out at Bechers, just shows how much of a lottery the race is and how it has to go for you to win it.

When he won it, it was incredibly emotional for everybody. I was with him after the race and you could see what a race of that stature means to people. Watching A.P. cross over the line and win that illustrious trophy which had evaded him in his career was the standout moment for me.

Unfortunately I won’t be at Aintree this weekend as I’m covering Everton against Arsenal

Sadly the racing regularly clashes with the football. For instance, the Cheltenham Festival tends to coincide with the Champions League Quarter-Finals, so last year I was watching the Festival on my iPad whilst Liverpool were playing Bayern Munich!

On Boxing Day, I used to have Seebald running in the King George and I went to see that, but Boxing Day is a huge day for both football and horse racing. This Boxing Day I’m at Leicester vs Liverpool, so you’re all over the place, so unfortunately the horse racing becomes the second priority.

You miss many days now because of the football and it’s going to be the same this Saturday for the Becher.

Speaking of the football, it felt like Liverpool took one step closer to the title when Manchester City dropped points away at Newcastle on Saturday. 

They’re 11 points ahead of City now, which is huge isn’t it?

For Liverpool to now lose four games while City go unbeaten, considering the way Liverpool are playing, sounds highly unlikely; and they have to be massive favourites to lift the Premier League trophy. 

However, Allison is out, Fabinho is now out - a couple more and it starts to mount up. I think Fabinho will be a big miss. It’s nice that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can come in and play a couple of different roles because it’s different replacing Fabinho with Milner for instance.

When they go back to Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum then they lose a bit of spark. So if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can come into the midfield that’s a big help, because he’s in decent form.

I don’t think they will have to sacrifice competitions due to fixture congestion, though. 

The League Cup match against Aston Villa takes care of itself, because Klopp’s going to have a lot of the kids out like they did against Arsenal. Whether they win or lose I think they’ll keep with the kids regardless. 

They will have that period in early January where they’ll have a week off and then the Champions League will start in mid-February - which will be their toughest challenge.

I tried to do (the double) at Real Madrid and I know how hard it was. We got to the Semi-Finals twice whilst winning the league, but you need everything to roll your way. We lost one Semi-Final to better opposition, but one year we were knocked out by Juventus in 2003 and we should have beaten them. 

You need things to go your way and have a bit of luck, but first they need to beat Red Bull Salzburg which isn’t going to be easy, but if they win that then it all takes care of itself. If they get Manchester City in the Quarter-Finals over two legs, then it really is a toss of a coin. It’d be the same if you played a side like Chelsea; you need fit bodies on the line and not have any decision go against you like a red card or silly things like that.

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Before all that, though, there’s the small matter of the Merseyside Derby…

Anything goes in derby matches and both sides give everything to try to win the game. It will be like that on Wednesday, because of the situation of the two clubs.

Everton played very well against Leicester on Sunday, and when you look at their squad, they’re in a bit of a false position - if you win three games in a row then you’re fifth, but if you lose a few you then fall down the table. 

It's not ideal when they’re under the most pressure to have to face Leicester and Liverpool, both difficult games, but there’s no better game to turn it around than in a Merseyside Derby. 

Imagine if Everton go and beat Liverpool and it’s the first game that Liverpool have lost at Anfield in a long time, then Everton will be so confident. They played well against Leicester but unfortunately they lost the game, but they have to go out and put in the same performance against Liverpool. 

I didn’t think Marco Silva would lose his job on Sunday evening, but I think if they lose on Wednesday night there might be a different decision. 

Meanwhile, it’s the Manchester Derby on Saturday evening. 

It has to be Manchester City, doesn’t it?

City have been a bit like Liverpool recently, where they’re not necessarily flowing and playing really well, but if United put our the sort of team they fielded against Aston Villa on Sunday, then you’d fancy City all day long.

It’s hard for United, a lot of their players are so inexperienced. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof do a good job, but there’s only so much you can do when they’re just rained upon constantly.

They’ve got an absolutely huge job on their hands. They’re going to have to spend a lot of money, and be very savvy. It’s a case of having to identify the right players for Manchester United.

Ed Woodward has spent the money, but again there’s that question of who’s actually identifying the players. Who’s the person saying ‘This is the player for us, I believe in them, let’s sign them’?

I don’t know whether it’s the manager who’s buying them, or it’s somebody upstairs who’s buying them, but the fans need to know.

It’s a big, hard job, it really, really is.

Advent might be upon us, but it’s also sacking season, and both Arsenal and Watford are looking for new managers…

I don’t think Brendan Rodgers should take it at all, even though it’s officially a ‘top six’ job. 

I spoke to him last year when he took the Leicester job after he left Celtic, and people criticised him for leaving Celtic, but his reasoning for taking the Leicester job was for all the right reasons.

Leicester are the biggest club outside the ‘Big Six’, with huge investment from their owners, a wonderful new training ground on the horizon and a good squad - so all those reasons don’t change eight months later just because the Arsenal job becomes available. 

They’re second, there’s a feel good factor around the place and I personally think he should stay there.

They may as well go for Mikel Arteta. He has been under Pep (Guardiola) for a number of years now, so he should certainly have the knowledge for the Arsenal job. 

I know Max Allegri has been taking English lessons, but I don’t know if his English is good enough yet. 

Arsenal could be jumping from Unai Emery who was criticised a lot - very unfairly to a certain extent - over his language problems, to somebody who can’t speak English again.

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Things are no clearer up the road at Watford, either…

Who knows what Watford want. They sack managers on a whim and nobody will be good enough, it’s as simple as that. They could get Sam Allardyce in and he could keep them up, or they can get Chris Hughton in who could also keep them up, but eight months later they’re going to go. 

It’s such a real haphazard club and if you go in there as a manager, then you need to go in with your eyes wide open. They got to Wembley in the FA Cup Final last year and then Javi Gracia was sacked. It’s just awful, and I don’t like it at all.

Finally, the sight of Gareth Bale holding a flag saying ‘Wales - Golf - Madrid’ just looked like a bit of fun to me. 

I knew that the Real Madrid fans were going to boo him and take exception to it, but it was probably just ill-timed. 

I know as an ex-player, that your teammates won’t be bothered about it. Sergio Ramos isn’t going to care about it, but of course fans are very precious about their own club. Gareth probably isn’t their favourite player at the moment, he was going to get a more disappointing reaction from the fans.

I think Gareth will be fine if I’m being honest. Madrid fans are very fickle fans, they’re happy when things are going well, but they also complain when things aren’t going very well. As long as he plays and he plays well, then the fans will support him and of course his teammates will support him, too. 

He’s had six years there so it all depends on whether he wants to leave. If he does want to leave, then I’d love it if he came back to the Premier League. I wouldn’t want him to go to China, because he’s too good a footballer. I know the situation in Madrid and I know that most of what we read in England is nonsense, because sometimes we’re obsessed with getting our players back in the Premier League.

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