It’s not often that a player is undergoing a medical at Carrington and I’m hoping they fail it. It isn’t the natural behaviour of a fan to want a player who your beloved manager is keen on to fail their medical. But then it isn’t natural behaviour for a product of the Liverpool youth team, who played in almost 300 games and scored over 150 goals, to agree terms with Manchester United.
The world as we know it has turned upside down. Michael Owen is a Manchester United player and the vast majority of our fans are made up about it. I know I’m not asleep but I not sure whether this is a scenario from my dreams or my nightmares.
When the rumours started circulating in the press a couple of days ago I dismissed them fairly easily. Owen to United? Yeh right, he is finished with. He’ll be lining up alongside Frazier Campbell and Nicky Barmy next season, if he’s lucky, and we’ll be chanting “you scouse bastard!” at him when he shows up at Old Trafford. The fact that even Liverpool fans boo their former hero doesn’t change what he is. Vermin. One of them.
Now, I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse that he abandoned them the moment a bigger club came sniffing. Whilst it was funny at the time, as a football fan, you have to recognise what he did was out of order. I know there are plenty of reds who think David Beckham is still mister Wonderful Manchester United fan, but there’s something so disgusting about turning your back on the club that made you in preference for the bright lights and fame of La Liga.
A similar scenario repeated the following season when Owen was in talks with both Liverpool and Newcastle when seeking a return to the Premiership. He claimed it was an “easy decision” to snub his boyhood team for Newcastle, which again can be compared with the hurtful remarks David Beckham made about it being the ‘best decision ever’ to leave us for Real Madrid. To be so careless about the feelings of the fans who spent years adoring you tells you a lot about a player’s personality and if we’re honest, Owen hasn’t shown there’s lot about his personality (nb. him actually having a personality is up for debate) that we can warm to.
With Liverpool fans all over the place raging at Owen’s decision to sign for United, it really is clear he does not give a shit less about them. Whilst it’s not often I would cite a player’s lack of caring for Liverpool FC as something to use against them, in the case of a youth team product, it has to be acknowledged as a fault. If he could fuck over Liverpool fans over and over again then how could we expect him to do anything different to us? And whilst a lack of loyalty and mercenary behaviour are rife in football these days, does that mean we can just turn a blind eye to Owen’s behaviour?
Essentially, Owen has made it clear he’s been in it for the money for some time. Even when he was at Liverpool and pledging his future to the club, he was talking about money in a fairly bizarre way.
“I’m not motivated by the financial aspects of football,” he claimed in 2004. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m very aware of my value as a footballer and what the going rates are. I know I’m in a fortunate position that by the time I end my career I will be in a very good situation financially.”
How many players talk about their market value? It’s just not the done thing really, particularly for a player who is supposed to be fully committed to the club.
So far, this is the doom and gloom I imagine you were expecting to come from me. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I said ‘excited’ the word which best sums up how I feel this morning but it’s true. I watched the interview he gave ten minutes after signing, where he can’t wipe the smile off his face, and it made it a lot easier to see the positives of this deal. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea.
The most important factor is the money. Not only because United are getting a good deal financially but because it shows a change in Owen. Hull certainly would have offered him more than the £30k a week it’s being reported he’s going to earn with us yet he still opted to join us. The last time he was presented with the opportunity to move he signed for the smaller club, with less chance of winning anything, but who would pay him more. He’s learnt his lesson.
Now, this doesn’t suddenly make him a massive fan of United or desperate to win our fans over, but it does mean we’re going to see a player with a point to prove and who wants to do well. Maybe I am being naive or maybe he has actually changed. Maybe being faced with joining Hull or Stoke has given him the wake up call he needed. That’s not to say he’s not interested in the money but that finally he has started to get his priorities straight.
Regardless, to feed his money hunger he has the incentives to score goals and play in lots of games. I imagine he can be on a great salary if he bags enough goals, so he has to believe that is what he’s coming here to do. Joining United isn’t a big pay day for him, like Real Madrid or Newcastle were. He’s going to have to really work for his money here.
As we have seen the deterioration of Carlos Tevez’s character before our very eyes and mocking comparisons between what we’ve lost and what we’re gaining pick up speed, it’s important to see what the advantages are in the England man over the Argie.
For all of Tevez’s complaining about how he was disrespected by the manager, we must remember he played in 51 games for United last season. Granted, Berbatov started more games in the Premiership, but it’s not as if Tevez wasn’t given enough opportunities to prove himself. Replacing the five league goals he scored last season shouldn’t be difficult and it’s hard to imagine Owen not being able to score at least five goals in the Premiership for us next season. For a dreadful team he found the back of the net 10 times in 31 games, so with the best service in the league, you have to fancy him to score more.
We’re also getting a player who is prepared to work for their place in the team, which is something Tevez is not prepared to do. Just like Gabriel Heinze wanted to leave when Patrice Evra gave him competition for his place, Tevez won’t settle for anything other than a starting role. Sadly, he seems to think he’s a hell of a lot better than he actually is. In contrast, Owen is happy to work hard and prove himself. He’s not joining United because he expects to start every game, rather he wants to do all he can to help the team during whatever appearances he gets.
One of the biggest concerns is of course Owen’s fitness, after spending four injury ravaged years at Newcastle. Our new player insisted this wouldn’t be a problem, claiming that a player with over 500 appearances to his name (an average of 42 games a season for club and country) couldn’t be injured as much as the press made out. However, the occasions where Owen is playing 90 minutes for United are going to be harder to come by than when he was at Newcastle anyway. Nobody is untouchable at our club, with even Wayne Rooney getting benched for derby day last season, but Rooney and Berbatov are our starting strikers. With less game time under his belt you’d hope this would increase his chances of staying fit.
All the reasons that made me not want us to sign Owen are still there though and I’m not suddenly of the view that this is the best thing ever. However, if things go well, this really could be something special. Let’s imagine he stays fit for the season and scores over 15 goals. Let’s imagine one of those goals is at Anfield. Let’s imagine he helps us to go on to win our record-breaking 19th title. When you think he could do all these things on a free transfer, it’s hard to find massive fault with the deal.
I think a lot of fans do feel in conflict over this but as always, we have to trust the manager. It could work really well for the club or he might flop, but the risk isn’t as great as the benefits we could see from this deal. But bloody hell, who would have thought, Michael Owen playing for Manchester United! Best of luck to him.