As a Liverpool supporter I have a soft spot for Michael Owen.
Now, for the sake of full journalistic disclosure, I must admit I came to the party late. I’m an American who, seduced by the 2006 World Cup, went looking for an English club to support. Through the right mixture of Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch and a childhood Beatles obsession (I see that puzzled look on your face—more on all this in an upcoming article), I fell in love with Liverpool Football Club.
So while I cannot speak for scousers who were once swaddled in LFC nappies, I am completely torn over how to feel about Owen going to Manchester United.
When I first swooned for Liverpool, Michael Owen was already two seasons gone. He was at Newcastle, a side I could never bring myself to despise. I knew they hadn’t been a threat to Liverpool’s title hopes since the first time Kevin Keegan was behind the Magpie steering wheel—later, in 2007, I’d buy the DVD of the 1996 4-3 Liverpool-Newcastle classic to help cope with my first summer of PLW: Premier League Withdrawal. (Scandalously, this syndrome is not yet recognized by the World Psychiatric Association. I’ve written a letter.)
So with Owen at Newcastle and me inhaling every piece of media on Liverpool’s back-history I could find, I developed an affection for the wayward golden boy. I wanted him to do well. Wherever he was. As long as it wasn’t at Liverpool’s expense.
But now he’s off to Manchester United. The enemy. What’s a Red American to do? (During the McCarthy Era, American Liverpool supporters were persecuted for asking such a question. Both of them were blacklisted and forced to wear away kits only.) Anyway…
Michael Owen to Manchester United: it’s Johnny Damon leaving the Sox for the Yankees… It’s Marian Hossa leaving Pittsburgh for the Red Wings… It’s Patti Harrison leaving George for Eric Clapton… It’s Captain Ramius parking his Soviet nuclear sub in Penobscot Bay… It’s my freshman year girlfriend leaving me for the singer in my band… (my fault: I shouldn’t have let the prick write ballads…)
No no no. Those things were immediate. Those things were Ashley Cole.
Unlike the aforementioned coups of the sporting heart, the Owen move to Manchester has been softened from his time in Spain and Tyneside. It’s not a direct slight.
Reasons I don’t need to hate him:
-He already “sold out” to Real Madrid. He left Liverpool to chase Champions League glory with the Spanish giants. So his leaving relegated Newcastle to chase glory with the champs is anticlimactic at this point.
-Liverpool had the last laugh: they won the Champions League the season after he left. Sucker. Although this does ressurect my Hossa Pittsburgh/Red Wings comparison. (If only Liverpool had beaten Real Madrid instead of Milan in 2005…)
-He’s going to tear something by September anyway. The Premier League is too intense for Owen to get over his recurring injuries. He’ll split his time between the injury ward, the physio room and the bench.
-Some say he’d come back to Liverpool if he could. Rafa doesn’t want him. I can’t blame him for grabbing the opportunity at Old Trafford if Anfield’s doors are closed to him.
Honestly, this has to be the last big club who will ever want him. It’s like if I was a 45-year-old (roughly the equivalent to Owen’s age in football years—and, yes, Beckham looks great at 65) and I got the chance to date a gorgeous 21-year-old again. (Note: I’m not a rich footballer.) Even if we had nothing in common and our vast cultural differences imposed crippling, uncomfortable silences on our attempts to relate, I would have to tell myself: this has to be the last chance I’ll get to date a 21-year-old! Where’s the dilemma?
And there’s already a couple of United players I don’t completely hate. Maybe I haven’t been at it long enough, but I don’t hate Giggs (longstanding great player even if his award last year came from the old man sympathy vote) and I don’t hate Vidic (he’s brilliant. C’mon, who wouldn’t adopt Vidic in a heartbeat?)
The only real stinger will be if Owen scores against Liverpool. It will be beyond devastating if one of his goals decides the season or a cup result… Will he walk off the pitch, head down, like Dennis Law in 1974? Or will he thrust his hands in the air and circle the pitch like a madman? I don’t want to think about that one.
No. The likelihood of his windows of fitness lining up with such a pivotal moment seems miniscule. But you never know.
So until he single-handedly knocks Liverpool out of the title race, the FA Cup or the Champions League, I’m choosing not to hate Michael Owen.
Anyway, I’m not going to applaud his goals anymore. I look forward to ricochets off the bar and his face sinking at the sight of raised offsides flags. Those little moments will bring me joy. I mean, c’mon: It’s Manchester United.