In May 1997 a small 17 year old lad scored on his Liverpool debut against Wimbeldon. By the end of the following 1997-1998 season this young man would have successfully taken over from Robbie Fowler as Liverpool’s leading goalscorer. He would finish that campaign as the joint top goalscorer in the Premier League with 18 goals. He was acclaimed by his fellow professionals as the PFA Young Player of the Year. He became England’s youngest international since the turn of the century and catapulted himself into the England 1998 World Cup Team. He scored a wondergoal against Argentina to firmly place himself on the international stage. And the rest they say is history.
This small lad, as you may have guessed by now, was Michael Owen, the Liverpool Legend. In the eight years that spanned his Liverpool career he was the inspiration for many great Liverpool moments. The goals just kept coming season after season (160 scored in 300 appearances). There were hat-tricks, winners and stunners galore. There was a Ballon d’Or in 2001. Owen was the best in the whole of Europe! There were cup victories (5 in total) and who will ever forget that treble year (2001) and the FA Cup. With seven minutes to go till what seemed inevitable defeat Owen pounced to score from eight yards. Then miraculously with only two minutes to go till extra time Owen did what Owen does best. With an electric quick turn of pace that left Adams and Dixon in his wake he was one-on-one with David Seaman. And as the ball rolled across the line moments later Owen was our hero and our Legend and Liverpool were FA Cup WInners.
Three seasons later Liverpool had failed to win the League under Gerard Houllier. The Chairman turned to Rafa Benitez to bring hope of a league title back to Anfield. With Gerrard, Owen, a new manager and hopefully a few new players (maybe even Aimar) many a Red, including myself, was dreaming of a strong title challenge.
Who is to know what happened during that summer. What thoughts went through his head? All I know is on the eve of the start of the season Liverpool’s top goalscorer for the previous 8 seasons shocked us all by leaving home. The entire affair did not sit well. He had refused to play during the Champions League qualifiers. He had waited to the very last moment to make up his mind, leaving Liverpool little time to find a replacement. And in “forcing” a move through his actions, added to the fact he had only 10 months remaining on his contract, one of the most lethal strikers in Eurpoe, a former Ballon d’Or winner and our top goal scorer moved to Real Madrid for £8 million plus Antonio Nunez (who was later sold for a paltry estimated £2 million). How could he?
To add insult to injury Owen has since his time at Real Madrid snubbed two opportunities to return to his home, opting first to go to Newcastle United and then to Manchester United instead of coming back to Liverpool. And it is the last switch that has inspired this article. Jamie Carragher was recently quoted in Sky Sports Magazine as having said Owen will likely receive a “frosty” reception on his return to Anfield on the 25th of October in Manchester United’s colours. To my heart he will have earned the boos he is likely to receive with his every touch.
Watching the Manchester Derby a few weeks back it hurt to see Owen celebrate a winning goal for the wrong Reds. In a couple of day’s time the reality of the fall of a Liverpool Legend will hit home literally. With every move since the summer of 2004 Owen has drifted further away and fallen greater depths from the affections of the Anfield faithful. The fall of a Legend is nearly complete. A goal against Liverpool, at the Kop end, for Manchester United will see him hit rock bottom. I hope that will not become the final chapter in the story of Michael Owen, the Former Liverpool Legend.