Why Michael Owen should be remembered as a Liverpool legend
Michael Owen deserves to be remembered as a Liverpool legend after scoring 158 goals in 297 appearances, writes Kieran Beckles
Michael Owen deserves to be remembered as a Liverpool legend based on his outstanding Reds goal record – but the England international will probably never quite earn that status at Anfield.
The 33-year-old announced his decision to retire at the end of the season on Tuesday after a largely unproductive spell at Stoke City, an unfitting end to the career of one of the Premier League’s best finishers.
It was no surprise Owen received warm tributes from a host of England greats, including David Beckham, Gary Lineker and Glenn Hoddle, for his memorable contribution to the Three Lions, scoring 40 goals in 89 appearances.
But although the striker’s legacy with England is undisputed – despite falling short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals – it is a very different case when trying to decide whether Owen is a Liverpool legend.
The debate stems from his £8m move to Real Madrid in 2004 which came to fruition after he failed to agree a new contract with the Reds despite protracted talks in the months, and even years, leading up to his departure.
For Liverpool fans, Owen’s exit was all the more galling after Steve McManaman had completed an identical move just five years earlier, except the 18-time English champions received no reimbursement on that occasion.
But truthfully, Owen didn’t act all that unreasonably.
The club was undergoing a change of management with Rafael Benítez replacing Gerard Houillier, while Djibril Cisse had arrived from Marseille and Milan Baros had earned a reputation as one of the continent’s best strikers after a sparkling display at Euro 2004. Owen felt the time was right to move.
Even putting all those factors to one side, the chance to join Europe’s biggest club was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Owen, who was England’s undisputed first-choice striker at the time but playing for a top club in decline.
According to Dietmar Hamann and Jamie Carragher, Owen was desperate to return to Liverpool in 2005 and 2009 but on both occasions a deal failed to materialise and the animosity towards the former Reds youth graduate remained.
Any hopes of a reconciliation ended when he moved to arch rivals Manchester United, an unforgivable betrayal which tainted beyond repair an already-stained Liverpool legacy in the eyes of many Reds supporters.
But in terms of stats, Owen should be talked about in the same breath as Liverpool greats such as Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush, who were all players he was tipped to emulate before bursting onto the scene at Wimbledon in 1997.
He was just 17 when he notched his first of 158 career goals for the Merseyside outfit at Selhurst Park. He was unable to prevent Roy Evans’s side suffering a 2-1 loss despite a magical display which defied his lack of top-flight experience.
To put Owen’s Reds tally in perspective, he is only eclipsed by Rush, Roger Hunt, Gordon Hodgson, Billy Liddell, Fowler and Dalglish.
The Chester-born forward, who joined the Liverpool academy aged 12, was a scorer of important goals too.
Perhaps his highlight was single-handedly winning the FA Cup against Arsenal in 2001. The speed merchant cancelled out Thierry Henry’s strike before out-pacing Lee Dixon and Tony Adams, and firing past David Seaman to seal the club’s first FA Cup crown since 1992.
He was particularly devastating during that spell, averaging a mind-boggling 25 goals a season between 2000 and 2004 (a tally now made to look pedestrian by Ballon d’Or winners Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) and it helped him become the first Englishman since Kevin Keegan, in 1979, to be named European Player of the Year.
The numbers provide a convincing argument that he deserves to remembered as a Liverpool legend and one of the club’s most-talented players of the Premier League era, along with Steven Gerrard.
It remains to be seen if the damage caused by his moves to Real Madrid and United can be repaired over time, but there are 158 compelling reasons why Owen deserves his place among the Anfield greats.