SUMMING up my feelings towards Michael Owen really isn’t a simple process.
Frankly, he came back to haunt us about as much as one of Derek Acorah’s fictional phantoms. There’s not much argument that we got the best years of his once bright career.
But unfortunately, when it comes to Owen there are so many mitigating factors to make you think you really dislike him.
And then, you look at him now, a husk of a footballer retiring aged 33, and I can’t help but actually feel the tiniest bit sorry for him. He evokes bipolar emotions, it’s very odd.
As a Liverpool player his record was excellent; he scored so many goals and in 2003/2004 was, in tandem with Gerrard, the reason we qualified for the Champions League the following season – which we of course went on to win.
When he first burst onto the scene he was electric. His reputation preceded him of course; he was touted up and down the country as being a goalscoring machine. That’s the way things turned out. But he will easily fall short of club legend status.
The “England’s Michael Owen” thing never bothered me to be honest. He’s certainly no more guilty on that front than Gerrard, who has reported to and come back from England duty with injuries many more times than Owen ever did. He was clearly very proud of playing for England (despite being Welsh, oh yes I went there) and the “Not English, Scouse” thing does nothing for me. I like to see players representing and being proud of playing for their country just so long as they don’t get injured.
But as always, club is more important than country and after allowing his contract to run down to just 12 months, Owen’s conduct towards the club that made him a superstar was reprehensible. I have no doubt that the delay in contract negotiations was manufactured.
I don’t have a problem with him going to Real, at that time in history they were the place to be, and despite finding himself on the bench for most of the season he chipped in with 16 goals. If I remember rightly he had the most goals per minutes on the pitch in all of Europe that season. What I do have a problem with is only getting £8m for a player worth at least treble that in his pomp.
A lot of Reds saw that as a betrayal. I won’t lie, “Where were you in Istanbul?” from the Kop made me deeply uncomfortable. I found it a needless dig. Again, at Newcastle he did little apart from suffer injuries; a particularly nasty one in the 2006 World Cup was pretty much the end of him. He slunk out on a Bosman when the Geordies got relegated, much to the ire of their fans. Not that it’s hard to attract their ire.
At this point Owen lost any positive connection with Liverpool when he signed for United. Again, with him being gone for so long and his best days many years behind him, I could cope. Given the choice I’d sign for United over Stoke (those were his options) as well. But I would have kept my trap shut and acted with class and dignity.
Owen however joined right in with his new target audience. Within minutes of signing for them “United were a fantastic club” and he had “always wanted to play for Sir Alex.” It’s comments like this that made people completely turn on him. And before the league game at Anfield in October, he came off the bench to a chorus of boos, shortly following his churlish (wonder where he learnt that…) comments about “looking out for Real Madrid and Newcastle’s results.” Again, trying to kiss up to the fans at the expense of those who made him.
He was probably entitled to wash his hands of us after the “Where were you in Istanbul?” moment but by going on the attack he converted a lot of those who were indifferent to a lot of those who disliked.
After a useful 6 months for United he totally faded away, plagued by injury and the same goes for his spell at Stoke.
I loved him, I missed him, I was disappointed by him and then I hated him. Now I just feel sorry for him. He won’t be short of money and his international record is very good, he’ll be in England’s upper echelons for a long time. But Michael Owen should have been a Liverpool legend.
However he is ultimately going to be a man who just isn’t remembered that fondly by any of his former clubs. And for a player of that ability, that seems a shame.
However, one Fernando Torres might want to think exactly the same – the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, is it?