The inside track on Wigan Athletic's Euro 2020 hero

In the end, football didn’t quite come home at the weekend.
Callum McManaman celebrates reaching the FA Cup final in 2013 with, among others, Graeme JonesCallum McManaman celebrates reaching the FA Cup final in 2013 with, among others, Graeme Jones
Callum McManaman celebrates reaching the FA Cup final in 2013 with, among others, Graeme Jones

But the England side can consider themselves proud on every level for going further in a major competition than any of their predecessors apart from the heroes of 1966.

And right at the heart of it was long-time Appley Bridge resident, and Latics legend, Graeme Jones.

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Drafted onto the coaching staff on the eve of the tournament by Gareth Southgate – providing a bizarre but reassuring presence on the touchline during a month that almost, ALMOST, ended 55 years of hurt.

“It’s been weird...watching the England team celebrating goals and victories, and Graeme Jones being in the middle of it... just makes it even more special,” said Callum McManaman, who came through the ranks at Wigan under Jones and Roberto Martinez before linking up again with Jones in 2019 at Luton.

“I’m so pleased for him, because I know how hard he works and how seriously he takes his duties.

“He deserves all the plaudits he gets, there’s no doubt he’ll be playing a big role in the set-up.

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“He’s probably never got the credit he deserves for what he’s done over the years, he was massive behind the scenes here at Wigan.

“Obviously the final call was Roberto’s, but the preparation he put in, the way he was always ‘on it’.

“If there was something he didn’t like, he’d be the first to tell you, and try to put it right.

“I didn’t even realise it at the time, to be honest, because I was so young.

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“You’re just listening to your coach and your manager the same as anyone else.

“But looking back at the other coaches and managers I’ve had, he was years ahead of his time – they both were, that whole set-up was.

“I didn’t think anything of it, I’m not gonna lie, I thought it was the norm and I just played and trained.

“But you look back – and see how well they’re both doing now – and you realise how special a time it was, and it’s brilliant to see them doing so well.”

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More than perhaps anyone, McManaman appreciated the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all style of man-management.

“He understands everyone’s different, and everyone’s needs are different,” recognised the 30-year-old forward, who recently joined Tranmere after a year in Australia with Melbourne Victory.

“He knows everyone’s backgrounds, he takes a real interest in getting to know everything about you, he doesn’t leave anyone out.

“He manages to get inside your head – and he’s done this with me a few times - because he’s so focused on getting the best out of every player.”

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