Michael Owen's pedigree as one of the greatest ever English footballers does not need any endorsement from several quarters; yet for the perpetual detractors and the knowledge of some of the younger fans, he's generally considered to be one of the best ever by some of the greatest ever footballers.
Michael James Owen was included in Pele's FIFA 100, a list of the Greatest Footballers. Later, Diego Maradona in his memoirs, El Diego also named Owen as one of the 100 Greatest Footballers of all-time.
So how did Owen become a back-bencher in terms of general opinion? Coming from a United faithful, this might sound biased to the neutrals, but the truth is that his departure from Liverpool to Real Madrid in 2004 was a huge factor in his public stock nosediving - Liverpool have a healthy fan following (n numbers, not mentally) and a significant majority of the Kop have been slagging off Owen since then. The fact that the Liverpool board and new manager Rafa Benitez did not go out of their way to keep him at Anfield is indeed a baffling act in itself - a 25 year old striker who had already scored 158 goals for the club and the most indispensable player for the England National Team was allowed to leave without putting up a fight. Compare that to what Fergie did to retain Wazza in spite of him handing in a transfer request. The Liverpool fans however to date begrudge Owen for being "greedy" to leave the club, whereas Owen himself, in his biography, Off The Record, described it as such:
"He (Rafa Benitez) didn't urge me to stay - and I don't hold that against him. Not one bit. Football's a business. I had one year left on my contract. If I was to leave, I wanted to make sure that Liverpool received a decent fee. The first time I was sure I was on my way out when I sat on the bench for Liverpool's Champions League qualifier against Grazer AK in Switzerland. If Benitez had played me in that game, I would have been cup-tied for Real Madrid's European campaign, so by then, clearly a deal was close."
I don't agree with the Scouser rants about Owen at all. The way they have slagged off one of their all-time goalscorers since the time he left for Madrid is just disgraceful. Imagine if the Red Devils were ungrateful towards Cristiano Ronaldo for his great services given to United by disowning him once he'd joined Real. Just goes to expose the frailty and narrow-mindedness of the Kop.
Owen's stint with Madrid coincided with a game of musical chairs within their managerial ranks. Ex-Madrid legend, Jose Antonio Camacho, who had signed him was sacked two days after giving Owen his first start for Madrid. The new manager, Mariano Garcia Remon lasted a few months before being replaced by the third manager in one season - Vandlerlei Luxemburgo. Funnily, the season before this one, which was David Beckham's first one, Real Madrid had already been managed by two managers, namely ex-Madrid legend, Vicente Del Bosque, who won the World Cup with Spain in 2010 and Carlos Quieroz, former Assistant Manager of Manchester United. I'm also thinking what you lot are thinking - Massive Club. Yeah, before City, the tag rightly belonged to Madrid.
There are many who misconstrue Owen's time with Real Madrid as a failure - if anything it's far from that in reality. He scored 16 goals from 29 starts and overall appearing in 41 games. Furthermore, he had the highest ratio of goals scored versus number of minutes played in the whole of La Liga that year. I can't see how that's a failure in any which way. He scored important goals, most notably in El Classico and against Valencia. The fact that he was left with no option but to join Newcastle after a year of joining Madrid was an error in judgment on part of the Spanish club, as they realized during the course of their next campaign. As Michael recalls:
"That summer, Madrid assumed I might want to return to the Premiership and made it clear to Tony, my agent, that he could start speaking to other clubs. My time in Spain drew to a close when the president Florentino Perez took me aside before a game. 'If you want to go home, that's OK. It's important to be enjoying your life and doing what you want to do. We don't want to keep you if you want to go. We'll listen out for bids.' The next direct conversation came with him when he informed us that Newcastle had bid GBP 16 Million. He told me that Real Madrid wanted to accept that bid. I wanted to rejoin Liverpool, but they were willing to pay only what they had received from Madrid."
I find it daft that Madrid chose to sell Owen and later Morientes, but instead chose to sign Robinho and Julio Baptista. Later that year, with injuries to star strikers, Ronaldo and Raul, they found themselves in a complete mess. That's where Owen was totally missed by them.
Owen's time at Newcastle is perhaps marred by a similar reason to that of Berba's situation with us - Price Tag. The fact that both players cost their respective clubs top dollar isn't their fault. If anything, it just put unnecessary pressure of expectation on them. There's actually no reasoning regarding his Newcastle years other than pure bad luck. I remember watching that England v Sweden World Cup game in 2006, in which England produced their solitary breath-taking performance of the tournament in the first half; the one in which Joe Cole scored that unreal goal, and then the unthinkable happened - Michael Owen, the pivot of English hopes, suffered an almost career-threatening injury. From thereon, it was a roller-coaster for Owen; unfortunately one of misfortunes, as far as his fitness was concerned.
By the time he joined United on a free transfer in 2009, Michael Owen's lethal pedigree as a predatory poacher has suffered a huge setback. Fergie, as you can click here to see, rationalized this phenomena by stating that Owen had been over-utilized during his formative years. If you look at it closely, the gaffer's spot on. By the age of 26, Owen had already earned 75 International Caps for England, a tally which he took to 89 by 2008, before Fabio Cappello, due to inexplicable reasons, stopped considering him for selection altogether. That's baffling really - to force England's 4th all-time goalscorer out of contention to play for his country, especially when Kevin Davies has been given a cap during that time period and that too when he's the wrong side of 30.
Who can forget the 96th minute injury time winner against the noisy neighbors - it's certainly gonna become part of the United folklore. It's fair to say that Michael's first two seasons with us have been a bit topsy-turvy. After some memorable performances such as the City goal, Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg and the League Cup Final goal against Aston Villa, he picked up an injury in the latter game that ruled him out for the season. Having missed out on the league by a mere point, his presence within the ranks could have made a difference. The next season, just as Rooney struggled with stability, then picked an injury and we thought we may see more of Michael, he got injured again, thereby missing out big time, 'cause by then, Chicharito hadn't established himself as domineeringly as he has by now. In spite of all this, Fergie's faith in Owen is unflinching. To name him in the Champions League Final squad and then extending his contract are clear indicators that Michael Owen has a role to play at Old Trafford.
It's his third season with us - Michael Owen is now a seasoned United player. So for those who call him a crock, for those who still can't get over the fact that he was once an Anfield prodigy, for those who don't rate him at all and for those who think that he's finished - let's just get on with it. If Fergie thinks that he's good enough to count upon when needed against Barca and if the gaffer thinks that he has a future at the club, then really, there's no point to the intellectual masturbation over the merits/demerits of Michael Owen.
He's a United Number 7, no less, so get the fuck behind him with all your passion, support and warmth just the way that you adore other lads.
I'm sick to my gut hearing and reading about the cold vibes that a number of fans openly or between the lines have reserved for him. Whatever your grouse may be doesn't take away from the fact that Michael Owen is a legend. Like it or not, he really is.
If Pele, Maradona and Sir Alex Ferguson think so, then you'd really be a wanker to disagree.
For the time being though, watch this video. Just memorable.
Still don't appreciate Mickey?