The news that Michael Owen penned a new one-year deal with Barclays Premier League champions Manchester United might have irked some divided opinions from the club’s fans but Sir Alex Fergusson definitely had something else rolling up his sleeve with this move.
The former Liverpool, Madrid and Newcastle hit man was limited to only 16 games in all competitions last season (this season if you will), most of which he featured as a substitute, scoring a total 5 goals with only two of those coming in the league.
As has been typical of the former Anfield idol, he spent most of his time with the Old Trafford doctors than he did at United’s training complex, playing ground notwithstanding. Such statistics would push any football-savvy manager into not signing a player even if he is a Bosman. But Fergusson, with all his savviness, did and renewed the contract.
The reason for this might be two-fold. First, there’s no doubt that the 5 ft 8 31-year-old is a deadly striker, injuries permitting. However, his heydays are over and he’s never going to score fifteen or twenty goals in a season. But for a squad player, he might be a better bet than Christian Poulsen for Liverpool.
The second reason actually touches on Liverpool. The rivalry between these two of England’s most successful clubs is gargantuan, nearly explosive. Besides the highly tensed matches the teams engage in every season, no player has been transferred directly between the two clubs since the transfer of Phil Chisnall from United to Liverpool in 1964. Only eight other players had made such moves since Tom Chorlton became the first one, transferring from Liverpool to Man United in 1912.
However, such players like Peter Beardsley, Paul Ince and recently Michael Owen have played for both, though they had to play elsewhere first (Ince for Inter Milan, Beardsley for Vancouver Whitecaps and Newcastle, Owen for Real Madrid and Newcastle). In 2007, Liverpool bid to sign Gabriel Heinze from United but they refused in spite of Heinze coming out in public to demand the move. The Argentine’s wish was however not granted as he was sold to Real Madrid.
Then came Michael Owen. Considered a KOP darling, legend and idol having scored 158 goals in 297 appearances for the L4 club and helped them win a famous treble in 2000-01 season, the former England international raged the Anfield faithful by signing for the perennial rivals on July 3 2009. The ire and acerbity that marked this move was immeasurable, even though Owen desperately wanted to join Liverpool but was turned down by then manager Rafael Benitez.
Those (not all) who once called him legend found traitor, twat, turncoat and other synonyms more befitting, just like this other man. But while the KOPS were cursing and fuming about this, the rival fans from the Red side of Manchester were toasting their champagne, barely because they had signed the best player in the world, but because they got one off their hated inter-city and club enemies.
And just after United won their 19th league title which “knocked Liverpool off their perch”, Owen came out saying, “As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them,” he told MUTV. “I won a lot of trophies with Liverpool but to win the Premier League is the pinnacle of anyone’s career. I’m very proud today..I’m really pleased and proud to have played with a great crop of lads and obviously the manager’s second to none.”
Needless to say, the response from Anfield was of equal measure. Captain Fantastic’s five-finger salute to Manchester United after the Red Devils were humiliated by Barcelona in the Champions league final was the epitome of them. Gerrard’s close pal Paul McGrattan even went ahead to deride Owen by posting on twitter; 'Message from the captain to Michael Owen. If you can’t beat them you should of joined....us! 5 TIMES! You 0 times!’
But Owen somewhat fired back after penning the new deal saying, “I’m delighted to have agreed a one-year extension to my contract. To play alongside so many great players, under an exceptional manager, and in front of so many incredibly passionate supporters, is a real inspiration. I can’t wait for next season to start."
It is these kinds of mind games that Sir Alex revels at. In Michael Owen, he has a player who seems very well interested in shooting, both directly and indirectly, at his former employers. And in Sir Alex Fergusson, Owen seems like he has a manager ready and willing to retain his services not because he scores dozens of goals in a season but for the sake of touting the big opponents.
But what do KOP fans think of Michael Owen and his prowess, if any, on the field? The song below offers the perfect summary.
His hamstring means he's lost his pace
he's gone to play for bacon face
went all the way to sunny Spain
he hardly ever got a game
Michael Owen has a massive head
a top lad though nevertheless
doesn't look bad in a flowery dress
I'm feeling good, but I need a reason
I've got one now: He's out for the season
Michael Owen has a massive head.
And That's thesteifmastertake!!