Midfield wizard Steve McManaman plays his last game for Liverpool tonight against a Sunderland team that he is confident is ready for the Premiership
The Real Madrid-bound star spoke exclusively to the Echo ahead of tonights Football League 100th Championship Challenge against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light (kick-off 8pm).And the 27-year-old believes the Wearsiders under Peter Reid could be about to take off as a force in English football.McManaman made his return from injury when Liverpool Reserves played Sunderlands second string at the Stadium of Light in January.He leaves Anfield on a free transfer under the Bosman ruling this summer and told Echo Sport: "Hopefully the game against Sunderland will be a memorable occasion and a good game."There is a definite divide between the First Division and Premiership. A lot of teams who have gone up have gone straight back down."But Sunderland have got everything now that you would think theyd need to stay up. They have a fantastic stadium, a 42,000 capacity, and they seem to have the finance and revenue."A lot of their players have played in the Premiership before, so they have experience, too."If they build on what they have done this year, they should be OK."I was very impressed with the Stadium of Light when I came here with the reserves."There was a great atmosphere with more than 33,000 in, so it must be really incredible when theres a full house."An Everton fan as a boy, McManaman recalled watching Sunderland boss Peter Reid in his heyday playing for the Toffees.He said: "Peter Reid has done a great job. Him and Adrian Heath are great fellas, and hopefully theyll do very well next season."Me and Robbie Fowler are Evertonians and we were lucky enough to watch Reidy when he won the league and cups for Everton. Were privileged to know him off the field as well.H Turn to page 50.` H From back page."Hes a fantastic manager and I was upset Sunderland never came up last year, but I fully expected them to do it this year and Im thrilled to bits for them."McManaman was a key figure for Liverpool when they produced an unstoppable second-half display to beat Sunderland 2-0 in the 1992 FA Cup final.He said: "I have always had very good memories of Sunderland. We have always had decent games when weve played them, regardless of whether it was in the cup or the league."I like the way they play and Im looking forward to watching them on Sky next year."McManaman said an emotional farewell to the Anfield faithful after Liverpools 3-0 victory over Wimbledon on Sunday, and threw his shirt into the Kop to give one lucky supporter a special souvenir.He said: "I enjoyed Sunday. We played well and had a good win, which was the best way for me to go out."We were told beforehand not to throw our shirts into the crowd because I think a couple of teams had done it the week before and there was a bit of a crush."But it was very a emotional day and I wanted to do that to thank them. We havent had the best of seasons by Liverpools standards but the crowd were still very appreciative."Like Liverpool, Real Madrid is a big club. Ill be going into a different league and experiencing a different lifestyle, and Im really looking forward to it."Tonights match puts the current Football League champions up against a Liverpool club who have won it a record number of times, 18.Tickets priced 5 for under-16s and 10-17 for adults are available from the ticket office until kick-off.Cash turnstiles will be open, but no concessionary tickets will be sold at the turnstile.