Making sense of the ahistorical Michael Owen myth

From Phil McBulty’s blog (‘Anfield’s day of destiny’, Friday 23rd October) on the BBC Sport website:

‘If Rooney comes up short, what price the intriguing inclusion of Michael Owen in Manchester United’s line-up against Liverpool at Anfield? The once unthinkable prospect.

Owen admits he is braced for a hostile reception given his perceived treachery in crossing this barrier of hostility – but how about some respect from The Kop for a magnificent servant to Liverpool?

It is not too great an exaggeration to say Owen won the FA Cup for Liverpool on his own against Arsenal in 2001. Is it too much to ask that this should be an abiding memory, not acrimony based on a perfectly logical career decision to join United after it became clear Liverpool boss Benitez did not want him back at Anfield?

Owen was not disloyal to Liverpool. He took a chance he could barely believe when Ferguson came calling.’

Football journalists are paid to know lots of interesting stuff about football and to write lots of interesting stuff about football. The Michael Owen will-he-be-booed-won’t-he-be-booed is an utter non-story and here’s why. The football media seems to have forgotten that Owen signing for Manchester United in 2009 is not the only reason he has his twatty face on the toilet paper at the Kop.

Owen left Liverpool for Real Madrid in 2004 for only £8m, a scandalously tiny amount for a world-class striker, owing to him entering the final year of his contract at Anfield. There is little doubt that had he been sold a year previously, or had he been two or three years away from the end of his contract, his value would be in excess of £20-25m (160 goals from 300 appearances for Liverpool, 24 goals from 26 international appearances is pretty bloody shiny). And not only was this shortfall a direct hit on the Liverpool finances – let’s not forget, these are the days prior to the Gillett and Hicks investment when Liverpool had only twice spent over this amount for a player, Emile Heskey in 2000 and El-Hadji Diouf in 2002 – but it was also a desperate sell in order to get some kind of financial compensation for Owen leaving the club.

With his contract due to expire in June 2005, Owen had repeatedly assured the club throughout 2003 and 2004 that he would sign a new contract and would not allow his contract to run down which would mean Liverpool losing a key player for free under the Bosman ruling. It was Owen’s failure to sign a contract, despite machinations of his intentions and repeated offers from the club, and the resulting cost to Liverpool that caused Reds fans to feel betrayed.

Owen was roundly booed at Anfield in 2005 when he returned for the first time with Newcastle United (see, for example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2005/dec/27/match.sport13). Yet the football media is content to forget recent history and pretend that his transfer to Manchester United is the cause of what will probably be a pretty nasty reaction. Even worse, the media seems to suggest that this is the result of a niggling tendency of modern football fans to boo any of their former players, no matter the circumstances of their departure nor the colours of their new employers. On the contrary, the collective memory of boyishly pretty, seventeen-year old Michael Owen bursting into the Premiership in 1997 and skinning Roberto Ayala for that wonderful goal in France in 1998 adds only to his veneration amongst the football media and Owen-apologist, face-like-balls, geezery fucknuts like Harry Redknapp who are supposed to know a thing or two about the game. Thankfully, Benitez, Fabio Capello and Liverpool fans can see sense.