Words: Max Freeman-Mills
Images: Offside Sports Photography
Most football fans like a dependable wing back.
We all want that “you can call on me” caution, hovering just on the edge of your eye line at all times, the sort that doesn’t get on so well with frankly scary Marcelo-esque “where the fuck are you?” positioning. Give us a reliable man on the wing, first and foremost. Give us peak Steve Finnan, a quiet, responsible player who was around for some bloody good days, and then wasn’t anymore.
Your Jamie Vardy stories, your Rickie Lamberts, are inspiring but becoming a tiny bit familiar: workhorse striker proves again and again that he can score at the next level up, before eventually making his England debut and scoring. It’s just Steve Finnan, though, who can boast the almost baffling record of having played at all four levels of the English league football and the Football Conference, in the UEFA Cup, the Intertoto Cup, the Champions League and, oh yeah, a World Cup. Literally no other player ever managed that full list—and good luck to them now, finding a spot in an Intertoto Cup side.
He made his way up, from Welling and Wimbledon to Birmingham, Notts County, Fulham, and then, hitting his peak, Liverpool. He was never really a starlet, not a promising youngster in the modern sense. Instead, he was a man consistently proving himself and signed for Liverpool at the age of 27 already needing to demonstrate that he was in the prime of his career. He didn’t do it in his first season, but 04–05 was a good time to cement yourself as a starter for Benítez’s team. He could cross pretty well, but mostly Finnan was just flawless at the art of Never Not Running, getting up and down the wing tirelessly, with the emphasis on always being back.
Finnan’s greatest moment, on paper, isn’t a surprise—the final of finals, in Istanbul, left him with a lovely great shiny Champions League winner’s medal. It’s a shame for him that he was one of the sacrificial lambs offered to the footballing gods when the game was going against Liverpool. With Harry Kewell’s fragile body already on the altar, replaced by slightly-scary Vladimír Šmicer, at half time Rafa was forced to tweak his formation and trade an injured Finnan for the massively-important Dietmar Hamann. He heard the comeback goals from the treatment room but made it back out in time to watch Carra and Stevie cramp around the pitch cleaning up until the penalties.
Steve might point to 52 appearances for Ireland as another pretty decent innings, and a couple of European Super Cups to boot, but Istanbul has a way of drawing the attention.
But then, just a couple of years later, in a way that felt abrupt from a fan’s point of view, Finnan was gone. Rafa had a way of openly trying to sign replacements for players that really seemed to still be doing the business (Xabi, oh Xabi). From Josemi to Kromkamp, Degen and eventually Álvaro Arbeloa, Rafa seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about his right back, as if the defensive solidity he offered just wasn’t enough on its own, which frankly feels a bit mad. Liverpool, since Finnan, have had a decade of not-quite-there blokes in his old slot.
Glen Johnson scored the odd screamer but was seriously iffy when it came to some basics like closing down and, you know, marking. Jon Flanagan strained every sinew for a season and a half before reverting to type and just not being that good. Martin Kelly no longer gets starts for Crystal Palace, and quite right, too. Javier Manquillo.
You don’t know what you have until you lose it, sometimes, and a peak Steve Finnan would slot into even Jürgen’s lovely modern machine. I mean, obviously he wouldn’t displace Trent—the kid can do free kicks, are you mad? But when a scary team come to town and a potent winger reckons he’s got Trent on toast, what an option your running man Steve would be. Him and Robertson on opposite flanks would almost be unfair in terms of sheer lungs.
Since his retirement, after a terrible stay at Espanyol and a short while at Pompey, Finnan’s been best known for cementing his Merseyside disappearing act. He fell off the face of the earth. No media appearances, no scabrous interviews about how Liverpool will always fall short, nothing. Then, in 2015, the organisers of a club-sanctioned Istanbul reunion went public about their failure to find Steve, and if it was 2018 you could guarantee a cavalcade of shit memes at this expense. Instead, some actual journalists found him in about five minutes and confirmed that he was living in London and just wasn’t that arsed about publicity.
That’s the sort of privacy that most footballers can barely cope with, let alone seek out, but Steve seems totally happy with, running his property development business, almost certainly with a sensible attitude to fiscal responsibility. The sort of man who does his job, gets on with it, and then, when the business is done, is happy to slide away. Good on you, Steve.
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