Owen's return is made low-key......very.
Liverpool 2 Newcastle 0
The pre-match hype featured on Michael Owen's return to Liverpool. Owen made comments in a Times article relating to the reception he expected to receive, the quality of our strikers not guaranteeing 20 goals a season like Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and himself, and how the fans shouldn't take it personally if he were to celebrate scoring. "Liverpool don't really have a player who will guarantee them 20 goals a season in the way Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler or myself did. Even though it does not seem to be holding them back", said Owen. He has seven goals in eight appearances for Newcastle, 2 of which came against West Brom, 3 against West Ham, both away.
Graeme Souness returned to Liverpool himself, adding: ""Michael is an honest man and Liverpool was his first choice, but it wasn't to be. I'd like to think he will want to go back there and show them what they are missing........I'm sure he will get a fantastic reaction from the Liverpool supporters who are very, very special. They have a history of showing affection for former players who are nowhere near the stature of Michael Owen when they go back to Anfield. I don't think, I know, he will get a very special welcome. They remember him with great fondness."
Alan Shearer: "Michael makes Newcastle a much better team. I think that would apply to any team he was at, including Liverpool. He would improve any team he was playing in. That's proved by the number of goals he scores. He's a goal machine. Signing Michael was never going to be a gamble. You can never guarantee anything in football but, with him, you're just guaranteed goals. The chairman knew all about what Michael brings and that was why he was prepared to blow everybody else out of the water with his £16m bid."
So we messed up, we were not thinking correctly, didn't spend more than double what we sold Owen for to get him, allowed Newcastle to emerge and get his signature despite Owen saying he wanted to go there on loan if we were not interested, and now comes the day for us to rue in the aftermath of Owen's goals in defeat. Not.
Owen's article in the Times was merely a guidance brochure for Liverpool fans in the same way one finds the emergency procedures tucked in behind the plane seat in front. Owen scores and celebrates and we are expected to remain humble as he dances around the pitch in jubilation. Liverpool fans have further memories than that. We remember the goals he scored for us, no doubt, the movements, the runs, the nearlys', the almosts', we don't forget that, it would be very foolish to say so. We also remember when he was due to sit down and talk with new boss Rafael Benitez and then word came of interest from Real Madrid and then he was gone.
People may say Liverpool fans continue as if they expect no one to leave the club. Untrue, very. Players want to stay, good, if not and they want to leave, fair enough. We don't want anyone who wishes to leave staying and possibly spreading unhappiness to the others. This was realised with Owen and Rafael let him go, reluctantly. Remember, Owen wanted to leave, we never wanted him to go. He was said to be on the verge of signing for us until Real Madrid came in and clearly took advantage of the contractual wrangle that had Owen and Liverpool at a stalemate. We sold him for peanuts.
Liverpool fans do not blame him for leaving, for wanting to leave. We blame him for leaving in the manner that he did, after negotiations with the club which seemed to end with his signature for us, only for Real to step in, and this was after they had initially failed to attract Arsenal's Patrick Vieira. Let's make that much clear. Issues were made to make Liverpool Football Club the culprit for allowing Owen to leave. It was practically the same scenario with Steven Gerrard, until a dramatic U-turn occurred, for the better for Liverpool fans. Let's make that much clear.
People may say Liverpool fans don't show respect for past players. Untrue again, very. We have seen Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley, Kenny Dalglish when he took over from Kevin Keegan, John Barnes (all with Newcastle with Beardsley also visiting Anfield with Everton), Paul Walsh, to name a few. The only gripe we have with a former player was with Steve McManaman, enough said about that departure, ironically to Real Madrid too and he hardly fared well there himself. Owen was said to have received mixed reactions yesterday, but he would have got a bigger red carpet treatment than that he received when he arrived at St James' Park, had he left Liverpool on better terms.
I need not spell it out but in a nutshell he should have said he wants to leave, handed in a request, explained that he wished to seek honours that he felt he could achieve with another side, then the expected attempts to convince him otherwise, to no avail, eventually accept it and then negotiations with another club comes to the purchase. We accepted we were not looking good enough to be in a position to compete for honours, much less win them, at the time and for someone like Owen to want to go was very understandable. Just not under the circumstances that emerged in the end. No.
Owen is believed to have left us for glory in an instant after it was anticipated he was going to sign for us, endured a year on Real Madrid's bench (unjustly in my opinion) when Raul and Ronaldo were not scoring often enough, scored 16 goals which would justify being a regular first-teamer than a sub, realised his position at the Bernabeu was potentially hampering his chances for England in preparation for the World Cup in Germany and therefore seeked to play regular football, with no guarantees from Real, and he wanted to return home. All of this while we improved under our new manager, almost won the League Cup, achieved a dramatic victory against the odds in the Champions League, a record 5th time for a British side. Without a guaranteed 20-goals-a-season striker too.
Of course Owen would be pushed to comment on a special day for him but should have kept it more discreet, instead of commenting on our strikers, for one. It was an attempt to quiet our fans when he celebrates scoring but with the added comments from Shearer and Souness, it failed three-fold. Gary McAllister refrained from celebrating when he scored Liverpool's 2nd against Coventry at Highfield Road in a 0-2 victory in April 2001, and they respected him even more. Kevin Phillips scored for Aston Villa against Sunderland this season at The Stadium of Light, and did the same. They didn't make comments in papers before the game to appeal to the home fans, and Owen didn't need to either but I sense it was expected he would be hyped to show Liverpool what we had missed out on. Yet he and Shearer were hardly given a sniff, according to statistics with Liverpool practically rampaging for the majority of the match with the abundance of chances that both Shearer and Owen would have cherished being on the end of.
Rio Ferdinand said it best in his post-match interview, when asked about his scoring twice in one season so far, when he said it isn't fair to rely on the forwards to score goals and therefore good for others to score too. That way, there isn't so much reliance on a 20-goals-a-season striker.
The match therefore was quite a thrill, Peter Crouch proving that he doesn't have to be a striking striker to influence or aid Liverpool, his touch on Luis Garcia's ball came to Gerrard for our 1st, then his header at the near post was just about over the line for our 2nd. Shay Given was excellent in goal again and denied what could have been more goals for us. Replays show Nolberto Solano used his arm to prevent the ball going further in the box, which was missed. I thought Lee Bowyer would be shown just a yellow at best, seemed that kind of tackle. Crouch deserved his and should have held more coolness, though I sympathise with his feelings at the time. One or two reports suggest Crouch was lucky to remain on the pitch but shoving is a yellow card offence, not red, to clear any grey area. Gerrard was lucky not to get booked himself, Shearer too. Souness claims such a decision would happen away from home especially, which could explain why Shearer was not sent off against Arsenal at St James's.