The Curious Case Of Michael Owen

Given that he’s been in the news a lot lately as he attempts to flog his new book, I’ve found myself thinking about Michael Owen a disproportionally large amount. The fact that it’s the international break certainly helps on that front, given that there hasn’t been any football worth the title to concentrate on instead. So I’ve been contemplating his Liverpool career, his reputation amongst the club’s supporter’s and wondering why he’s seen as being unworthy of our love by so many people. There’s the Manchester United thing, obviously. But in many ways that came after we all fell out of love with him. His move to Real Madrid came at an inopportune time as far as most Liverpool fans were concerned, with his decision to leave having the feel of a rat jumping a sinking ship given the club had lost its way under Gerard Houllier and we had no idea what to expect from Rafa Benitez as manager at the time. The Champions League win in 2005 felt like just desserts for Owen.

If you haven’t heard it yet then I’d urge you to head off to listen to The Anfield Wrap’s chat with Michael Owen, which was released this week. It is a candid and fascinating conversation and Josh Sexton doesn’t pull his punches when discussing the part’s of Owen’s career that most Liverpool supporters have issues with. As they say in the conversation, few things in life are black and white and it was revealing to me about certain aspects of the player’s decision making around that time. I think the thing that I took from it most starkly is the fact that fans of a club can’t help but think in simplistic terms, yet when it comes to players they need to consider the wider implications on their career. When he was leaving Newcastle his choices were essentially Hull or Manchester United. A player of Owen’s level and with his sense of arrogance is only ever going to make one choice, so why do so many Liverpool fans hate him so?

He Made The Choices He Felt Were Right For His Career

There are countless examples of players who are worshipped as heroes but who came close to making similar decisions to Michael Owen. During the interview with Josh he talks about how Ian Rush was rumoured to be in talks with the likes of Manchester United when he was leaving Juventus, only for Kenny Dalglish to turn up at the airport and drive him back to Merseyside. Anyone of a certain age will remember Liverpool supporters setting fire to their Steven Gerrard shirts in the summer of 2005 when it looked as though the captain was on his way to Chelsea. The only difference between those players and Owen is that they didn’t actually make the moves, instead merely flirting with the possibilities. Neither of them are remembered harshly, despite actively considering signing for ‘the enemy’ when Michael Owen was desperate to re-sign for us but couldn’t.

Then there’s Luis Suarez, who went on strike to force through a move to Arsenal in the summer of 2013 and seemingly bit Giorgio Chiellini in order to get his move to Barcelona the following summer. Whilst the Kop didn’t sing his name during the Champions League encounter last season, he was certainly looked on more favourably than Michael Owen has been, despite the fact that he never won us anything whilst the England striker was a huge part of the reason we won a treble in 2001. Whether we like to admit or not, he owed us no loyalty. He was practically begging to come back to Liverpool but the club didn’t want him, having already added Fernando Torres to out attacking options. We might look at a ‘traitor’ who signed for Manchester United, he’ll look at a trophy cabinet that includes a Premier League medal. So why don’t we like him?

He Never Felt Like ‘One Of Us’

It would be untrue to say that Michael Owen was never loved by the Anfield faithful. In his chat with Josh he talks about how he distinctly remembers his name being sung during home matches and it’s certainly my recollection that I loved him as a player when I was younger. I remember being angry that he scored that goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup because it would mean that he would no longer be ‘ours’ and would instead belong to the country. Yet I don’t remember every ‘being’ Michael Owen when I was playing football with my friends, instead opting to be Robbie Fowler or Steve McManaman. It was partly the lack of a Scouse accent, there’s no denying that. But it was a constant sense that he thought he was better than us that came across in his interviews etc. Whether that’s fair or not is entirely irrelevant, given I’m talking about how I felt about him at the time.

His relationship with England is perhaps the thing that best encapsulates that. It’s clear from everything he says and has done over the years that Steven Gerrard loved playing for England, yet he never gave the impression that it was preferable to lining up in a Red shirt. The same can’t be said of Owen, who always seemed to relish his chance to escape the confines of Anfield and thrust himself into the limelight that came with the global stage. I want to be clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Different footballers are in it for different things. It’s clear that Cristiano Ronaldo values his own personal success far more than the success of the teams that he plays for, or if the two coincide then it’s even better. The same is true of Harry Kane. It’s just that that’s what stopped me personally ever feeling as though Owen was in the same boat as the rest of us, which gave him a feeling of being separate.

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