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By Rupert Webster.   Last Updated: 20/02/01 12:32pm

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STEVE MCMANAMAN has stated his intention to be part of England's World Cup side in 2002, by saying that international football is the most important aspect of his career and Opta have assessed his performances this term to see if he is worth a place in the squad to face Spain.

With England's new coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, a firm believer in the traditional 4-4-2 formation, McManaman's best hope for a starting berth is surely on one of the flanks.

But with captain-elect David Beckham likely to fill the right-sided role, a place on the left - where the former Liverpool player has often struggled to find his best form for the national team - would seem like his best chance.

It will be heartening for McManaman that he has - against all the odds - made that role at Real Madrid his own.

After the arrival of world-record signing Luis Figo last summer, it seemed that McManaman was surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu, as the £37 million man would operate in his favoured right-wing role.

However, a string of influential performances in La Liga and the Champions League have seen McManaman re-establish himself at Real, where he and Figo often alternate between the wide midfield positions.

In Europe, the England player has been accurate with an excellent 84% of his passes, which is actually better than any Englishman has managed in The Premiership.

Also, McManaman's famous dribbling skills have clearly been in force.  He has embarked on a run once every 17 minutes - more frequently than any English player in The Premiership - and got past his man in 88% of attempts.

This is a better ratio than many of his rivals for a place on England's left-wing, such as Kieron Dyer (who has completed 69% of his dribbles), Joe Cole (72%) and Michael Gray (73%).

The one aspect of McManaman's game that has failed to impress throughout his career is his finishing.  And it appears to be a problem that the Real midfielder continues to struggle with. In the Champions League this term, McManaman has fired in five shots and has failed to hit the target with any of them.

However, this does not correspond with his Liga form, where he has hit the target with 50% of his shots and famously scored the 'perfect' goal - a sweet right-footed volley - against Malaga last month.

Having played a key part in Real's Champions League win last term, Mcmanaman has proved that he can compete with the best and is clearly desperate to recreate his good form at national level.

As most of the nation is aware, Eriksson is woefully short of options on the left flank, and as McManaman can provide silky skills and excellent distribution, he would appear to be the Swede's best option.


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