Michael Owen is not a stupid individual. He knew that signing for Manchester United, when he was painted so strongly in Liverpool colours, was going to upset a few people. It did and to be fair many of them were of Scouse origin. The reaction from a lot of United fans was a bit more ‘meh’. He was not pledging allegiance to us, he wasn’t going to kiss the badge, he may well play once or twice (pay as you play maybe) and score a few goals and it would all be worth it. Fast forward past the goals in Europe, and that goal against Manchester City, fast forward past the end of last season and the first league winners medal of his career; after the start and the goals recently against Dirty Leeds the same question is rearing its ugly head (that’s the first and last Piers Morgan reference here, we promise).
The question being, namely, why is Michael Owen still at Manchester United?
When you look at his career, goals for Liverpool and good standing with the fans, goals for Real Madrid (eventually) and apparently a good reputation with the Madrid fans as someone who was there when called upon to put the ball in the back of the net. There was a lot of noise made up in the North East about his move to Newcastle and his goals continued but it wasn’t so much his goals to games ratio as his games to injuries ratio that made the headlines. Rumours flew around that the chairman didn’t like him. At different times during his stay on the Tyne loyalty was demanded from him by the Chairman Freddy Shepherd. Before arriving there had been rumours that Liverpool fans wanted him to return but the Liverpool management were against it. That wonderful man Mr Shepherd again apparently told some Liverpool fans that they could have him back gladly. At the time he left St James’s Park, Newcastle had been relegated. Manchester United came knocking on his door, “out of the blue”, of course he would say yes. Who wouldn’t?
Gordon McQueen said once that 99 percent of players would love to join Manchester United and the other one percent were liars. There is a lot of truth to that. Whether certain players would allow themselves to move in our direction is open to argument. There are some players who say they wouldn’t entertain a move to Old Trafford, and we can believe them. Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, various players spring to mind. Steven Gerrard probably wouldn’t sign for Manchester United, but had no problem entertaining a move to Chelsea until other alleged factors came into play or Steven discovered a sense of loyalty he had momentarily misplaced as kerching sounds deafened him. Alan Smith told the world he would never sign for Manchester United, and did. Now it seems that he is under the impression he did so to save Leeds, as he had to be sold to the highest bidder which was us.
Michael Owen has been criticised for appearing happy to sit on the bench and collect his money. He has gone out of his way in the wake of his performance against Leeds, to suggest that is not the case at all. When it comes to taking easy money, I’d much rather have a player dying to come off the subs bench than one who is seemingly never off the treatment table. Owen Hargreaves may be moaning now about his stay with the English Premier League Champions, but I don’t see him writing a cheque to the good folks on Sir Matt Busby Way refunding the wages they carried on paying him when he was in the never ending rehab!
To be fair he has every right to be defensive and suggest he could play an important role. Others have suggested he needs to do so at another club and this may come to pass but if it doesn’t so what? To not want to leave Manchester United is no bad thing.
Brian McClair is a striker who sparked similar intrigue from the press in his last few years with the club. Journalists would often write about him moving to this club or that club and would ask why he continued to stay at Manchester United. Michael Owen is younger than Brian McClair was when these questions were being asked but the parallels are there. McClair scored 35 goals in 44 league appearances for Celtic and won numerous trophies for them before joining United and continuing to score goals. It was, after all, McClair who was the first since George Best to score more than 20 league goals in a season.
Yes, his slipped down the pecking order with the arrival of bigger names but he was willing to play his part. Whether you come as the top dog and get nudged aside or there are already other dogs in the yard when you arrive as in Michael Owen’s case, you still represent Manchester United.
Brian McClair wrote:
“All the time you have to think: what are the positive things about staying at United? What are the positive and negative things about going somewhere else? Commentators used to say I could walk into most of the other teams in the Premiership, remaining at United was a token of my ambition and not a sign of the lack of it.”
‘Choccy’ McClair is a Manchester United legend. He stayed at Old Trafford and contributed to the football club for 11 years as a player and continues to do so on the staff. That does not happen by accident and players like McClair are few and far between. No-one is suggesting that Michael Owen is anywhere near that stature, and you have to be honest and think that if one day it suites either Michael or Manchester United to part ways then it will happen. Maybe it’s naive to think that there isn’t part of him just collecting his money, but that cannot be all there is to it.
McClair wrote that his job was to “get on with whatever the job is, to be fit and ready to play when I have the chance”, even if that is “the last 10 minutes of a Premiership game”. It sounds a lot like Michael Owen’s comments after the Leeds game. Journalist Brian Reade might believe that “to accept playing fifth fiddle at 31, when you believe you’re still capable of scoring goals at the highest level, is an insult to everything you have achieved”
That fifth fiddle is at Manchester United, if Michael Owen believes he is capable of more then he needs to take the chance when he is given it. It needs to be said that Brian McClair wrote these comments in the 1996-97 season, one year before leaving to play for Motherwell (a playing career that ended 6 months after joining them). He was around the same age Michael Owen is now.
Joining Manchester United is rightly the pinnacle of a club football career, whenever in that career in arrives. It’s not to be walked away from lightly. In closing we must disagree with the respected Mr Reade, choosing to contribute to Manchester United Football Club is at no point, ‘an insult to everything’ in a football career.