This pice first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 14th July 2012.
Michael Owen occupied a unique place in the recent Tomkins Times poll; in a list of twenty legendary Liverpool players, Owen was the only one who is no longer thought of fondly by the Kop faithful. Thanks mainly to two dreadful words (‘Manchester’ and ‘United’), the goal scoring machine of the late 1990′s and early 2000′s is now abused and reviled by Reds fans who used to adore him.
Or did they?
Whilst he supported Everton as a boy, so did many of the club’s recent top players; Rush, McManaman and Carragher to name but three, so that shouldn’t have been an issue. Personally, I think the fact that he wasn’t Robbie Fowler counted against him a lot during his time at Anfield; it’s impossible to imagine Owen raising his shirt to display a pro-dockers message after scoring a goal for instance, and when Owen came in to the team, he was often replacing an injured God (or Robbie Fowler to non-Kopites), which won’t have endeared him to many fans.
Yet to my mind, it really shouldn’t be this way; Owen is the club’s seventh highest scorer in history, and one of only sixteen men to bag a hundred goals for Liverpool. Of those players, whilst acknowledging that they’re not all strikers, Owen does have the fifth best games-to-goals ratio. Whatever you think of him, there’s some impressive strikers below Owen in this table:
On a personal level, I think I liked Owen so much because he was the same age as me (and presumably still is…) so I could identify with him to a degree, and he played such a massive part in the first major trophy spell that I experienced.
Being too young to remember Liverpool’s real glory years, the 2001 treble campaign was a fantastic period for me as a fan. In my final year of university, my endless weeks of essays and revision were frequently punctuated by Liverpool matches on TV (in the days before watching every match online, I remember counting at the end of the season that I had watched 31 of the team’s 63 matches on the box), and more often than not they won. Owen was one of the main figureheads of this wonderful period.
Whilst 2000/01 was not his best season for goal scoring purely in numbers (he topped his tally from the Treble campaign in both of the following two seasons), he rarely scored so many important goals in quick succession for Liverpool; remarkably, he scored over a third of his total for the season (nine out of twenty-four) from May 1st onwards.
Owen’s major contribution to the glory of the Treble began in February, as he scored both goals as Liverpool recorded a famous 2-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico over a Roma side who would end the season as Serie A champions. It was the Reds’ best away win on the continent since the early 1980s when they dominated Europe, and was a definite signpost that Gerard Houllier’s young side were very much on the up.
Within the five months of football that followed, Owen scored both goals in an FA Cup final that Liverpool won despite being completely outplayed, scored in the club’s first ever Champions League match, found the net in minor trophy wins against both Manchester United and Bayern Munich, and scored a hattrick against Germany in a famous 5-1 win for England. As this was back when I took the national team very seriously, that treble of goals only endeared him to me further.
2001 finished with Owen scoring his 100th goal for the club having only just turned 22, and he was also named the European Footballer Of The Year. He remains the only Liverpool player to date to ever be awarded the coveted Ballon D’or.
So where did it go wrong for Owen from there? Running down his contract so he could move to Real Madrid for just £8m (plus Antonio Nunez; thanks Michael!) caused a lot of damage, and the Liverpool fans’ schadenfreude was amplified in glorious fashion at Istanbul at the end of that season.
But joining the club’s massive rivals from the other end of the M62 really sealed the ‘Owen Hatred’ deal. Whilst a lifelong Red like Steven Gerrard wouldn’t entertain the notion of joining United for a second (as he said himself in his autobiography, “Growing up, I was taught to loathe United, their fans, players, manager, kit-man, mascot — everyone associated with Old Trafford…and during 90 minutes of football I want United to die”), Owen snapped up the opportunity to join them after leaving Newcastle in 2009.
By signing a contract at Old Trafford, Owen went from a position of indifference in the eyes of Liverpool fans to downright hatred for most. Personally, whilst I was disappointed that Owen signed for United, I will always remember him fondly for what he achieved at Anfield at an important time in my life. Whilst the other articles in this series will no doubt receive numerous positive comments for the players written about, I will be very interested to see who else remembers Owen in a positive light. I suspect I may be in the minority.