Michael Owen: The Sunburnt Substitute

Posted by Garstonite on July 11, 2005, 07:57:43 PM

Regrets, in life, are like a blunt pencil – pointless.  I, being the poetic and pitiable person that I am, would much rather refer to them as ‘lessons’.  But for Liverpool Football Club, and a man who served the club so well for so many years, Michael Owen, there is an underlying remorse that neither will admit to.  Both parties have suffered, let’s be frank.  Liverpool’s top scorer in the Premiership this season was Milan Baros.  A player who brought home the Golden Boot from EURO 2004.  The Czech Republic star has also just come off the back of his best, goal scoring-wise, season in his three years at the club.  His 9 goal tally, however, is exactly half what Michael Owen averaged over his last three years at the club.  For those who are a bit slow on the uptake, that’s 18.

Michael Owen too, similarly, suffered.  Despite, on a ratio of minutes played to goals scored being Madrid’s most prolific striker, Vanderlei Luxemburgo failed to find a place in his system to fit the Englishman.  Surely, he should wake up and smell the coffee?  Was Owen’s attitude poor?  Far from it.  Is hw worse than Ronaldo or Raul?  Statistically, obviously not.  Were his shirt sales lower than that of the Spaniard and Brazilian?  Most probably.  The scheme over in Spain baffles me.  Thankfully, I follow English football, but there are so many aspects of the La Liga that intrigue me.

So what exactly was “Saint Michael” doing on the night of 25th May?  He was no doubt sat at his home in Madrid, surrounded by beautiful décor, sat on an expensive settee, feet up on an expensive coffee table, watching the game on a 70” plasma screen.  What must he have thought throughout the game?  Did he go through the emotions of every Liverpool fan on the night?  A little tear at half time, perhaps a bout of anger if that is the way he deals with it?  Did he spend the night on the ale, up on cloud nine after seeing the club he ‘supports’ win the most acclaimed prize?  Or did he sit there bitterly, watching on as the side he left win the European Cup – the kind of trophy he left Anfield in order to add to his list.

This last week or two Owen has been filling the tabloids with stories he’s ready to leave Madrid in order to get more opportunities in somebody’s first team.  This, by the way, was never going to be an excuse for his departure from Liverpool last term.  If the Englishman was fit, Houllier played him.  Simple as that.  Arsenal and Manchester United are the two names that are being thrown into the hat.  What else has been filling the papers?  The news that Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have signed long-term deal to keep them at Anfield until 2009, that’s what.  Owen must feel like more of a fool as each day goes by. 

It’s like the song goes: you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.

Owen was in need of a fresh challenge.  I can understand that.  Things, admittedly, at Liverpool had gone a little bit stale.  He may very well have still been consistently putting the ball in the back of the net, but, there were still doubts over whether he still possessed what was necessary in the modern game.  He had lost that extra yard of pace, his first touch wasn’t what it used to be and injuries plagued pretty much every season of his career.  (Mostly down to his agonizing hamstring). 

Was Real Madrid the obvious choice, or simply the only choice?  Surely a player of his calibre, with his distinctive pedigree, would attract a lot of interest?  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.  Either way, Liverpool, and Benitez kept it under close wraps if, indeed, that is the case.  Was it the lure of playing alongside the best players in the world?  Was it the fact that Madrid has similar, proud traditions that Liverpool do?  Or was it something as simple as the prospect of playing alongside David Beckham regularly? 

Regardless of why or how, the question everybody wants to know, or hear from him himself is, does he regret it?  Of course he does.  No player like Michael Owen, a natural-born winner, wants to spend his time stuck on the bench.  The sight of Owen sitting glumly on the bench against Grazer AK last year, has been mirrored throughout his first season in the Spanish capital. 

Now, as every now and again, he receives postcards from his pal Fernando Morientes (the two, forming a friendship after countless hours spent together on the Madrid bench), he must feel even more of a fool.  Along with the interest in Luis Figo, Owen must think that Benitez is tormenting him.  He must feel like the fat, geeky kid at school – frantically jumping up and down, flapping his arms incessantly, desperate to be chosen next only to be letdown like a helium balloon with a hole in it. 

So, the inevitable question that follows – will Liverpool make the best out of this situation, and bring back Owen?  Only Benitez holds the answer, but my guess would be no.  No just financially, but also due to the fact, to put it blatantly, he simply doesn’t need him.  OK, domestically Liverpool struggled without his goals and expertise in and around the box, but the club has moved on.  With Djibril Cisse – an inexhaustible striker with blistering pace and an eye for goal, Milan Baros (if he stays!) – who can be one of the world’s greatest striker’s if he put his mind to it with the right guidance under Rafa, and also, Fernando Morientes – whose past records and achievements speak for themselves. Then there's the intriguing alternative of Peter Crouch. Like a travelling circus (and, at times, our away performances were just that) Liverpool have moved on.

As Liverpool continue to progress under the leadership of a man who spent two seasons silencing the critics, winning two La Liga titles ahead of a Real Madrid team who could only look on in jealousy, Mr. Owen has to contemplate tattooing the word ‘WALLY’ to his forehead.  Did he underestimate Benitez?  Or would he have left even if Houllier had won the FA Cup, European Cup and Premiership in his last two seasons?  Was it a mid-twenties crisis?  It certainly wasn’t for money – he took a pay cut in order to join the Madrid giants.

Either way, surely the thought of seeing a depressed Michael Owen sat on the Real Madrid bench popped into Mr. Steven Gerrard’s head on the Tuesday prior to his astonishing U-turn.  We often learn from one another’s mistakes, and this is certainly the case today.  Sometimes, the grass isn’t actually that much greener on the other side.

Don’t get me wrong, Michael Owen’s service at the club was exceptional. No one will forget his destruction of Roma or him practically winning us the FA Cup single-handedly in 2001.  A player who scored 158 goals in 298 games won’t just be forgotten overnight.  He will remain in many people’s eyes a ‘legend’ but, as he enters the so-called ‘peak years’ of his career, will he continue to regret leaving the Rafalution in the summer of 2004, before it had even properly begun? 

Would it have really harmed him to have stayed one more year, like Gerrard did?  Eight years at a club is a long time, and you have to acknowledge the fact, but Liverpool made Owen the player he is today.  We formed a bond.  Then he leaves without giving his new manager a chance.  Is it right that he did a Pinocchio on us?

I wish him all the best, but there is a constant, burning desire inside of me to shout out har-bloody-har.

© Garstonite 2005

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