Liverpool Lore: The dramatic case of Michael Owen

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Michael Owen of Liverpool celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Liverpool and Leeds at Anfield on October 25, 2003 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Michael Owen of Liverpool celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Liverpool and Leeds at Anfield on October 25, 2003 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

The list of incredible attacking players in Liverpool’s history is a long and illustrious one. It doesn’t matter what era you think of, a World Class forward will be there. However, few come with the dramatics that Michael Owen does.

Owen is one of the most talented players to pull on the famous Red shirt. He finished 4th in Ballon d’Or voting as a fresh faced 19 year-old. He won the award when he was 22.

He exploded on the scene at such as young age that it feels like his career was over in a flash. In 1997, on his debut for the Senior team, Owen bagged a goal against Wimbledon as he announced himself to the English audience.

Going into the next season, he replaced Robbie Fowler as Liverpool’s 1st choice striker and would not disappoint. He won the Golden Boot by scoring 18 goals in the League.

He followed this up with a stunning goal at the 1998 World Cup that put his name on the International map.

It showcased everything that Owen brought to the table. Immaculate first touch, strength on the ball, blistering pace and emphatic finishing abilities.

He was on top of the world as he followed up this World Cup with another Golden Boot for Liverpool during the 1998-99 season. He was still a teenager but he was the focal point in attack for one of the biggest clubs in the world and he had become a star for the England national team.

It was around this time that one of the stories of his career would pop up in the shape of injuries, particularly to his hamstring.

For a player that the hallmark of his game was running by and away from defenders, it was not a smooth transition.

Perhaps the peak of his time with Liverpool was the 2000-01 season that saw the Reds win a cup treble by capturing the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup. This campaign saw Owen score 24 goals across all competitions including a pair in the FA Cup Final.

It was around this time that Real Madrid began sniffing around the young phenom. This was the age where they were building a super roster of Galacticos. Then Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier did not take the threat seriously. He said;

They might be able to afford Ronaldo, but they cannot afford Michael Owen. For that kind of money they could only buy his left foot but he is not going anywhere.”

This was the first warning shot that there was a footballing world outside of Merseyside and Owen was a special talent wanted by many.

The next few years began to show some cracks in the Liverpool side as they missed Champions League qualification and Owen’s injuries surfaced once more. The 2003-04 campaign was a slog but coming back from injury saw Owen fire his team back into the Top 4.

Unfortunately, this is where things become heated for some fans. In the late summer of 2004, he joined Real Madrid for a fee of £8 million.

With inflation, that fee would only be £15.7 million today. That is astonishing to think about as Owen was one of the best forwards in the world and had been Liverpool’s top scorer in every season he was there.

One of the biggest reasons the fee was so low was Owen had let his contract run down to its final year, leaving the Reds in a tough spot.

Owen would not have much success at Real as he was mainly used as a substitute while Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League.

Perhaps sensing his mistake, he requested a move back to Anfield. Liverpool were willing to bring him back on a modest fee, but Newcastle United came from left field with an £18 million offer that Real Madrid could not refuse.

It was reported that Owen called Liverpool to ask them to up their offer but the club wanted him to simply tell Real he would go nowhere but Anfield.

Oddly, he did not do this and made the move to St. James Park. This situation was an example of why so many Reds fans have a bitter taste in their mouth when Michael Owen is brought up in conversation.

It seemed the name on the back of the jersey came before the badge on the front.

He made 79 appearances for Newcastle scoring 30 goals before they were stunningly relegated to the Championship.

At this time, Owen became a free agent and amid rumors that he once again wanted a return to Liverpool, his team sent out a “Michael Owen Brochure” trying to sell him to potential clubs.

However, Rafa Benitez decided to go a different direction.

As a result, Owen joined arch rivals Manchester United on a free transfer. This was probably the last straw for any Liverpool fans still holding out positive thoughts on him.

He won a Premier League title as a mostly used sub in 2010. The clock was quickly ticking on his time though as he was a shell of himself.

A brief pit stop at Stoke City was the final step before retirement for Owen. He made 482 appearances at the Senior club level during his career.

297 of those appearances came in a Liverpool shirt where he scored 158 of his 223 career goals. 50 of his 58 career assists came while at Anfield.

It’s clear, his prime years were with Liverpool where multiple trophies were won. An acrimonious end to his tenure has left a permanent bad taste in the mouth. Playing for arch rivals Manchester United. Not willing to play ball to facilitate a return.

Next. Liverpool Lore: Looking Back At Daniel Agger And Where He Ended Up. dark

These are all factors that make Michael Owen the person not as beloved as his production on the field probably warrants. He was the best player on the planet for a time while playing for Liverpool.

That is just a fact. However, not even the blistering pace of a young Owen could outrun all of his off-field drama and decisions.