Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When Michael Owen Almost Joined United In 1994

Michael Owen signed professional forms with Liverpool in December 1996. Owen was one of the most coveted graduates of Lilleshall, which at the time, was generally considered to be the Vatican of youth football development in Britain. By that time, Owen had also successfully managed to break all-time scoring records at every level right from Under-10 to Under-17 football in England's history. Two years before that, although he had already signed Centre of Excellence forms with Liverpool, it was a loose arrangement with no contractual obligation for either side, so Owen's father made him do the rounds of all clubs that had expressed interest in securing the professional services of his 15 year old son.

Recalling those days in his autobiography, Off The Record, Michael Owen recalls:

"I went to Manchester United and spent a week or two there undergoing trials. I always had the impression that United wanted to bring me into their successful youth system. It was when I went to watch a game at Old Trafford that I first came face to face with the man who had shaped the careers of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville Brothers, Gary and Phil. I was in an environment where homegrown talent was valued very highly.

Before the match we had the traditional meal in the stand, and then we went to Ferguson's office. I will always remember him looking me straight in the eye and asking, 'So, do you want to play for Manchester United?' The question was so big and so simple that it threw me off balance. I was sitting opposite one of the world's leading managers, and I wanted so much to become a professional footballer. So my answer was 'sort of' followed by a meandering 'yes'. I just couldn't have stood in front of him and said, 'Oh, yes, Mr. Ferguson, I've always been dying to play for Manchester United.' 

As much as I respected him, I was extremely nervous in his company. It wasn't a fear of being bullied; more a case of finding the whole routine uncomfortable. It required me to hold conversations I wasn't ready to have. So, generally, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what managers said - being diplomatic, I suppose. 
'Do you want to be a professional footballer, son?' 

'Yeah I do.' 

That's pretty much the way it would go. You only really give one-word answers when you're a kid, don't you?

I don't know what Alex Ferguson made of it, but I do know that Brian Kidd, his assistant, had been to watch me lots of times and had got to know my dad quite well. For a while, if United didn't have a game on the Saturday, Brian Kidd would often be on the touchline to see me play. The United scouts stayed in touch and asked Dad to let them know when it was decision time on which club I was going to choose. If I'd been older, I might not have been quite so naive in front of Sir Alex, but at that tender age I was listening to my heart more than my head. I wasn't old enough to make calculations about who was the biggest club or who might have the brightest future."

At the end, Steve Heighway, a youth coach at Liverpool, who had a huge influence on Owen and his parents tilted the deal in Liverpool's favor. Another strong factor was that Owen didn't wanna live away from his family. 

By 2009, when the football world had practically written off Michael Owen, it was the same Sir Alex Ferguson who gave his career a new lease of life. Starting his third season at United and by now well familiar with the great traditions of Manchester United, not to mention the solitary league medal he's won with us, Owen would definitely be wishing that Albert Einstein had not destroyed his most valuable discovery - the Time Machine!


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