In depth: The stigma around Michael Owen, the man that Liverpool fans love to hate

Before we get into today’s piece, I want you, as the reader, to think about your current job. Think about what do you do for a living and answer these simple questions?

Is it the career you want for the rest of your life?

Are you at the pinnacle of your career?

Can it get any better?

Are you at the top job in your chosen industry? Can you get a higher role?

Football is just another career. Yes, it’s a privileged one – many of us would sacrifice so much to just play one game for our favourite teams. But at the end of the day, it is still a job. You get paid, you get taxed, just like every working person in the UK and that payslip still arrives every month.

It’s worth bearing in mind, especially on an eventful week like the one that Michael Owen has had.

In a week that should have been joyful, exciting and memorable for him as his second book was published, he instead suffered a torrent of abuse, backlash, Twitter trolls and social media “discussions” with Alan Shearer.

The tweet that sparked the row between Alan Shearer and Michael Owen

‘Reboot’ – the title of his new book – has caused a huge amount of controversy. Similar levels to Roy Keane’s book in 2002, and Keane’s second one a decade later. There’s a theme there somewhere…

Newspapers always publish excerpts of these books pre-launch to give us an inside look into the controversial truths that lie within the world of professional footballers. Mainly though, it is used to ascertain a tasty angle with which they can stir the pot of public furore.

As humans, we are taught to believe what we want to believe and that is our right. Freedom of speech and thoughts. We are free to make up our own minds. Yet, we manipulate things to give our thoughts more reliability and leverage.

How many times have you said or heard “newspapers are full of s**t”, or “don’t believe everything that you read in the newspapers”. In today’s world of social media supremacy, the most common one is “well if it’s on Twitter/the internet then it must be true”.

So, how can we in one breath say these things to disprove a newspaper article or social media post yet ignore them completely and have the opposite opinion to solidify our opinions in the next breath? Weird that, isn’t it?

Divided we stand

When you mention the name “Michael Owen” to Liverpool supporters you will get plenty of divided opinion. To some, he is the boy wonder who scored on his professional debut in May 1997 against Wimbledon.

The two former England internationals took a public swipe at each other

He may be described as the guy that topped the Premier League goalscoring charts in his first full season. The youngster who led Liverpool into a new era. The man that single-handedly won us the FA Cup and led us to an unprecedented cup Treble under Gerard Houllier in 2001.

Perhaps he would be described as the man that became the first ever Liverpool player to win the Ballon d’Or. The lethal striker who scored 158 goals in 297 appearances. A Reds legend who people idolised growing up.

To others he is the man who “ran down his contract” and went to Madrid for practically nothing. The bloke who “chose Newcastle over Liverpool”. He who “could have come back, but never did”.

Some might say he’s the guy that decided to wear the red of Manchester United and “disrespect Liverpool”. A Judas who should “never be spoken about” as a Liverpool Legend. He’s “England’s poster boy”.

This type of controversy is only ever attached to players who were so fondly remembered and idolised. When you are loved by so many supporters and have given them so many memories that will be cherished for a lifetime and then you are no longer there to provide those memories, it certainly feels like a tragic loss.

Move to Madrid

Back in 2004, very few players would have turned down the mighty Real Madrid. Think about where the Reds were at the time. Houllier’s side were not the Liverpool of 2001. Things had become stale and it was clear the Frenchman’s time as Liverpool manager was coming to an end.

Contract talks between Owen and Liverpool had been ongoing for the best part of a year – a year that saw Liverpool win just 16 games and limp over the line for Champions League qualification. Who knows what the club was thinking. Owen was not the only player who was struggling for a new contract at the time, but he was arguably the most important one.

Owen is the type of player who is confident in his own ability. He knows he can cut it with the very best that is out there. What better way to test himself than playing in Spain at arguably the biggest club in the world?

Let’s not forget, Steve McManaman did the exact same thing. He left Liverpool for Feal Madrid on a free and does not get half the abuse Owen gets. What’s the difference?

It was definitely a hard thing to see for us all. The heartbreak of seeing on of the best players of the era leave Liverpool left many in tears, including the man himself.

A possible return

Owen ended the 2004/05 season with 13 goals in La Liga and the season’s highest ratio of goals scored to number of minutes played. But this was deemed not good enough by Los Blancos. Added to the fact he and his family struggled to settle in Madrid, it was obvious that a return to England suited all parties.

Contrary to what people have believed for 15 years, Owen did not choose the Magpies over the Reds. As detailed in his new book, it was Real that told him that it was a choice of sitting on the bench in Spain or “you can go to Newcastle”.

The prolific Luis Suárez’s form meant that Liverpool didn’t need to bring Michael Owen back to the club.

The player wanted a Liverpool return – it was all but done. However Real wanted Liverpool to match Newcastle’s offer of £16m. Liverpool were not prepared to pay double what they let him go for just 12 months earlier, so the north east beckoned.

There were other times when Owen tried to get back to Liverpool. In 2007 there were talks, but Liverpool had moved on with Fernando Torres and did not require another striker. The same happened around 2012, but it was Luis Suárez leading the line at Anfield this time.

So, when people think he turned down Liverpool to go to Newcastle, the truth is he did everything he could to get back to the team closest to his heart.

The United era

Signing for Manchester United was seen as the ultimate betrayal by a lot of Liverpool fans, who, to this day cannot forgive him for wearing that shirt. Newcastle had just been relegated and, with Owen’s recent injury history, not many clubs were coming in for the then 30-year-old striker.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who had made it public years earlier that he was desperate to sign Owen when he was 16, decided that he was going to offer Michael the chance to come back to the Premier League, the chance to win major honours both domestic and continental. A footballer’s career is very short, and you only have a limited number of opportunities to win trophies.

As I said earlier, In your current job, would you move to a different company to better yourself? Or what if you were unemployed and then a great job was offered to you, would you turn it down?

You ask your old job – where you had the best time of your career – but they have now replaced you and don’t have any vacancies. What do you do?

You take the job at the rival company. From a purely career-driven standpoint, there’s little wrong with what he did.

Short memories

Fernando Torres, Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can have all fallen victim to the social media trolls after they left Anfield. Tellingly, none of them achieved anything close to what Michael Owen achieved in a Liverpool shirt.

People in football have short memories and only see the negative connotations to certain situations. Many of the people that aim hate towards Owen are not old enough to have seen him play for Liverpool and only saw the videos and heard the stories, then only saw him play for United and their minds were made up.

But if it is the older generation who did see him play, then the hurt and pain is still there, and it will remain.

But it’s time to let it go.

Regardless of what you think about Owen off the pitch and how he is as a pundit on BT Sport, what you need to remember is that he scored over 150 goals for Liverpool. He was the model professional in his time at the club and a great role model to so many young fans who wanted to emulate him on the streets of our fair city, and beyond.

He helped deliver six trophies to the club. He scored in every final apart from the 2001 League Cup, which he didn’t even play in. Without his contribution and goals, Liverpool would not have achieved what they did under Gerard Houllier.

This needs to be remembered first before anything else. Other players have left Merseyside having achieved far less than Owen did, but are held in higher regard. How does that make sense?

His new book is definitely worth a read whether you like him or not. Hopefully by reading this piece it has helped you ease off a little. If not, read his book, but there is a strong possibility it will make you eat humble pie. You have been warned!

Michael Owen’s new book ‘Reboot’ is out now, and can be purchased by clicking on this link.

Jay Pearson

Writer. 80s movies enthusiast with an unhealthy obsession with Back to the Future. Heavy Metal lover and Ice Hockey watcher. Alisson Becker is a beautiful human being.

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