Michael Owen: How Much Loyalty Can We Expect?

Posted by Paul Tomkins on August 12, 2004, 02:42:47 PM

While we expect loyalty of some degree from our players, some fans think this equates to demanding our star men give the club their kidneys, lungs, hearts, and maybe one or two other vital organs. Upon their passing from this mortal coil, their very souls should be divided into pieces and superglued to plaques that we can purchase form the club shop (at realistic prices - we don't want to be ripped-off). Finally we expect them to donate what's left of their bodies not to medical science but to the club museum, so these hollowed-out husks can be mounted in a glass display cabinet next to a pre-season trophy from a long-forgotten Far East tour.

Michael Owen has had the temerity to consider moving to another club. Doesn't he know that we own him? His body, his soul, is not his own. It belongs to us: Liverpool fans. How dare he think otherwise? I don't know - the lad is clearly a Judas.

The people who make these kind of comments must never have left one job for another - better - one in their lives; never finished with a girlfriend or boyfriend or left a spouse; I assume they have been 100% truthful in every action of their lives. These people must never have even told a white lie. They can't have. Otherwise they'd be hypocrites, and surely that can't be the case?

Sure, footballer is not like any other job. But these are still human beings we are talking about. Not pieces of property. We ask them to shed blood for the cause on a Saturday afternoon (a term for those who remember when football was played at that time), and we ask that they don't leave the club within weeks of arriving, at the first sign of an offer elsewhere. But the concept of loyalty is getting skewed.

Owen's contract has run down because he was waiting to see if the club could match his ambition, and he made no secret of that fact.

Had Houllier fashioned a team capable of challenging these past two years - or at the very least, signs of progressing slowly and not regressing at breakneck speed - Owen would now be sitting pretty in the middle of a long-term deal. Okay, Owen can see that Liverpool have acted with the appointment of Benitez, but it is fair to say that this came too late to make negotiations a simple affair. This happened with just twelve months left on his contract, which meant the club were bound to get jumpy. Even now, Owen is not so pissed off he wants to leave regardless. In nearly all circumstances, now Benitez has taken over, he would stay. But Real Madrid have made their move. Not Everton, for crying out loud. Real Madrid.

Real Madrid: a bigger club than Liverpool - not many are, but that's true of Madrid. A better league than the Premiership - not many are; indeed, no league, bar La Liga, can be seen as a step up these days. To play in front of more fans - twice as many at home games. To move from one great city to another, albeit one with better weather, and a new culture to experience. And to be better paid for the privilege? Wouldn't that be a no-brainer to any other human being in any other line of work? And yet all some people see is greed (probably because these are the people obsessed with money - not the player, who will already have enough for ten lifetime's-worth of security). Clearly, these fans have no ambition in life but to get up, go to bed, and eventually die.

What other player has gone so far as to promise to never leave a club on a Bosman? Owen is being called greedy by many, and yet he could have let his contract run down and picked up double the wages by going on a Bosman. Sol Campbell gets £100,000 a week - more than Thierry Henry - as there was no transfer fee for Arsenal to worry about. The fact Owen didn't sign a new deal doesn't mean he is trying to rip the club off and leave on the cheap in twelve months. He has kept his options open; is that a crime?

Had he signed a four-year deal and then Madrid came in for him - and no footballer seems to have ever turned down Madrid - we'd be saying "why did you dedicate your future to us, only to leave?". Even if it meant we'd get £30m for him, we'd be disgusted. Just as we said about Gerrard, who signed in November 2003 and said he wanted to play for Liverpool for years to come, and might have left seven months later. Gerrard realised the responsibility of his actions, his words. Owen made no such declarations. He said he loves LFC, and would like to sign, but made no explicit promises. Gerrard leaving to join Chelsea - our rivals - before we'd seen the best of him, would have felt like a betrayal. Owen has been a star for Liverpool far longer than Gerrard, despite the fact both are 24. Owen, to my mind, has served his time at Liverpool, and can leave - for a new challenge - with my good wishes.

And yet the insults are also flying around; turns out, he was useless all along. True, Owen hasn't been at his best for the last two seasons, but in 2000/01 and 2001/02 he averaged a league goal every 112 and 117 minutes respectively (ignoring the goals which won cups). That's just twenty minutes off of a goal every game. That kind of form is not possible to maintain, especially in a team which spent the last two seasons struggling, and lacking direction. Was it Owen's fault that the creative players bought by Gerard Houllier were to prove to be next-to-useless? Is it Owen's fault El Hadji Diouf couldn't even cross a ball into an empty box during the warm-up, or that Bruno Cheyrou had all the mental toughness of a runny cheese left out in the summer sun?

I wish people would show some respect for a Liverpool great, whose goalscoring record stands up to anyone's - Rush's, Fowler's, Hunt's (given goals are harder to come by than in the more open game of the 60s). I'm now hearing Owen is past his best, he's washed up, and so on. For my full views on Owen the player, see: http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php/topic,33230.msg494276.html#msg494276 . This is how I felt when I believed he would remain a Liverpool player. Perhaps I should be a hypocrite and, now that he's leaving, say he was actually rubbish?  My views on how we can progress as a side, should he leave, are also on record: http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php/topic,36554.0.html . I feel upbeat about the future, with or without Michael Owen.

For what it's worth, £10m is a good price for a player with one year left on his contract. He promised he'd never leave for free - and he won't. So we won't get £20-30m? So what - we got him for nothing as a kid (when he could have signed for the Mancs, who were courting him - even after he was with us at the Academy, the usual United underhand "incentives" were being offered). He liked Liverpool - the friendly club - and he liked the way Steve Heighway and his staff treated him. He showed fantastic loyalty then, as a boy, when you can bet your bottom dollar United - by then Champions of England - offered him more than we were (we've all heard the stories of Alex Ferguson turning up at young boys' houses with the proverbial bag of sweeties; that's not meant to make Sir Alex sound like a deviant, by the way, should any United lawyers be reading). Owen showed his loyalty again and again, by signing new contracts. Despite being the most-coveted striker in the world at times, he never left Liverpool in the past, when Liverpool were clearly not the best team in the land; the best club, we can argue, but not the best team. At times, we weren't even close.

Owen has given us nothing but his best, whenever his body has allowed him. It's a compromise. At present, there is - for the only time - parity between player and club. When a player is on a long contract, the club holds all the cards. When a player is at the end of his contract, he holds all the cards. At present, both hold an equal share of cards. The club are acting because, in four months' time, Owen will be in control. Decisions needed to be made, and Rafa doesn't want negotiations impinging on the start of the season.

Let me recap: Owen could be joining Madrid. Not some poxy side. Real Madrid - nine times European Champions. That's over twice as many as our beloved club (and four of Madrid's successes have come while Mickey has been a professional footballer; only two of Liverpool's have come during his lifetime). And fans have the temerity to say it's all about money? How short sighted! Real Madrid are the pinnacle of the game. If you are accused to moving to Madrid only for the money, then it's not possible for any player to have ambition. If Owen were to go to Man United - knowing how much it would hurt Liverpool fans - I'd say yes, he has acted dishonourably. But he won't.

Just bear this in mind: Michael Owen said he'd never sign for another English club, and Madrid, from what I can tell, is not in England (then again, I failed my Geography O Level, so what do I know?). He said he wouldn't shaft the club by leaving for free; if he leaves now, he won't be. That's pretty impressive in my book. Look at Sol Campbell and compare (and even then, Sol can argue he left Spurs as he was ambitious - and has been proven correct on that score). We won't have that kind of heartbreak to deal with.

I understand the disappointment. I understand a little of the anger, but people, think with your heads here. Fortunately, many Liverpool fans are - after all, we are still the most knowledgeable in the game. Others, it is sad to say, are thinking with jerking knees and twitching boots. Please, if the deal goes through, let's show some class - the class we were once famed for - and wish one of our best players all the best.

ADDITION: I just wanted to add a point about loyalty in the past. Everyone seems to think players only ever represented one club in previous eras. Let's not forget that players such as St John, Yeats, Clemence, Keegan, Dalglish, Souness, Rush, Lawrenson, Whelan, McMahon, Aldridge, Barnes and many many more all came to Liverpool from other clubs; all left where they were making their names to join Liverpool, possibly for higher wages but almost certainly to further their careers; I'm not sure the clubs they left were 100% happy about it, but what did we care?

Let's also not forget that many were sold before they'd have wanted to leave Liverpool (Aldridge seemed particular sad, I seem to recall, as he tossed his shirt into the Kop during the 9-0 drubbing of Palace). In some instances they were shipped out while they still had many years left on their contracts, but for the most part LFC opted to cash in - most were past their best, admittedly - rather than let them see out their days in a show of loyalty to the club. That's football, and how it cuts both ways.

© Paul Tomkins 2004

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