If you have were hiding under a rock yesterday, then you probably didn't hear the news that Michael Owen has decided to retire. To be honest, I thought he retired a long time ago. He's seen far more TV time than playing time over the last few years. It is actually a sad way for one of Liverpool's best ever strikers to finish his career.
It is hard to believe that he is just 33, but that is likely because he made his debut in 1997 and seemingly never looked back. He won the golden boot the next season as well as PFA young player of the year. He had become an instant hit, he never was the trickiest, fastest (although he was quick), or skillfulness that many of today's strikers have. He just had an uncanny ability to finish and knew where to be.
Finish he did with 158 goals on just 297 appearances for Liverpool; the type of finishing and nose for goal that is just absolutely natural and cannot be taught. In that time he helped lead Liverpool to the 2001 treble while also scooping up the European Footballer of the Year. His performances were immense that year, but none finer than his display against Arsenal in the 2001 FA Cup final. If the 2006 FA Cup final was the Gerrard final, then surely this was the Owen final with his late goals sealing the victory for the Reds.
It seemed as if the sky was the limit for England's newest savior, but perhaps the pressure proved too much. He was the constant subject of transfer bids and rumors, mainly from Real Madrid, and while his performance didn't necessarily suffer too much, it did ultimately influence the rest of his career. What did affect his performances were the numerous knocks and injuries he started to pick up. Eventually, he succumbed to the pressure of Madrid and signed for them after touring the US with Liverpool for preseason in 2004. Surely he was sitting somewhere in Madrid kicking himself in the ass as he watched Stevie and company lift the European Cup in Istanbul later that year.
His time at Madrid was less joyous as most of his appearances were from the substitutes bench. However, his goal scoring record there is still quite remarkable when the numbers are put into context. He scored 14 goals in La Liga that year on just 39 appearances for the club. That is fairly remarkable in itself, but if you consider he was a substitute for 17 of those games it really puts the numbers in perspective. However, apparently that wasn't good enough for the Galacticos as the signed two forwards during the 2005 summer transfer window and he was off to Newcastle.
We all know his return was less than stellar and certainly not up to his standards. However, what is the unknown is why he decided to leave, and why he decided not to come back to Liverpool at a time when Liverpool needed a decent strike partner for Torres. Owen has said that eventually he will reveal what happened. Perhaps he didn't want to play for Rafa and maybe that is what drove him out in the first place. Perhaps he felt there would be too much pressure. I guess we will have to wait and see.
Ether way he started his nomadic return to the EPL in Newcastle. It was a return full of disappointment and constant injuries. While his goal return to appearances ratio with Newcastle was not bad at all, his injuries began to pile up. Because of this, he was quite and expensive commodity on the Newcastle side. I've seen reports where Newcastle fans have done the math to show each of his goals there cost over £1m each. Eventually he made the ultimate no-no move to Man U. This is the move that will forever taint his legacy with Liverpool fans. Regardless of how great he was for Liverpool, most (myself included) find it entirely too hard to look past this. This was furthered by some of his goal celebrations involving a bit too much love for the Man U badge.
So where does that leave his legacy at Liverpool? Let's just say it is very very complicated. He was still very much in the running for legendary status until his shock move to Old Trafford. After this snubbing, a return to Liverpool for a move to their most bitter rivals is surely a bridge to far. While we must look at his body of work for Liverpool with a ton of admiration, his decisions will forever mean he is likely not to be welcome around Anfield for quite some time. However, it may not be entirely his fault. After Michael Owen's less than welcoming reception at Anfield following his move to Newcastle, Stevie said,
"His reception was very disappointing. I played with Michael for several years and he's a world-class player. He's a legend here, but the fans didn't want to see him go in the first place. He deserves a standing ovation here for the goals he scored."
Perhaps this was a bit harsh on a man who was simply trying to regain his former form and glory (and he did win a few medals at United). Carragher also opined on the issue,
"I had heard he was thinking of joining Manchester United but he would have jumped at the opportunity to come back to Liverpool. He would have been happy to be a squad player and was excited at the opportunity to return home. The way he left Liverpool had saddened Michael and he wanted the opportunity to redeem himself."
Perhaps it was Rafa and/or the board who just said no. But as Steven Gerrard said after he opted to stay at Liverpool vice moving to Chelsea,
"Of course I'd love a Premier League winner's medal and that may have happened if I'd moved clubs but would that league title mean as much to me as the other trophies I've won here? No - fact."
Perhaps Michael Owen doesn't quite feel the same way, but surely he can't blame the supporters for feeling differently than he does. Clearly, it does affect where he stands among the club legends in the eyes of the supporters and he is certainly looking up at a lot of them because of his choices. There aren't too many supporters who hold a grudge over his moves to Real Madrid or even Newcastle, but the Man United move was just too much. The only other club that would have been off limits was Everton.
One thing is for sure, I am looking forward to hear Michael's side of the events that ensured he never returned to Liverpool. Hopefully it will clear up some of the muddied waters he is currently treading in. Still makes you wonder, what if he had stayed?