Thursday, April 21, 2011

Owen reflection

Fresh from his Tuesday night barracking, @themichaelowen expressed his hurt through Twitter - the sportsman's mouthpiece of choice.

Now, I can't begin to be surprised that Owen was roundly booed, or for that matter that I don't share the view that he (like 99.999999% of footballers) is a mercenary.

As Fat Fred commented recently, the signing of Owen was his biggest mistake in his time as Newcastle chairman. (Which is some admission from a man who boasted to a NOTW reporter that he was ripping us off and that all Geordie women were dogs and who oversaw the signing of Albert Luque.)

The question is, why was the Owen deal such a disaster?

For me, there are a couple of obvious reasons. The first is that, put simply, Owen didn't want to join Newcastle. When Madrid started listening to offers it was clear that Owen wanted to get back in to the Premier League so he could keep his place in the England side bound for the 2006 World Cup. Similarly it was clear that Liverpool were interested. Given his established base in Cheshire, and his previous links with the club, it was perhaps inevitable that Owen favoured a return to Anfield. However, once we massively outbid Liverpool, Madrid were only going to accept one offer - ours.

This meant Owen was left with the choice of staying at Madrid and risking missing out on the 2006 World Cup, or signing for Newcastle. With more than one eye on his England career, the player signed for us on a gloriously sunny August day.

So as of 1st September 2005, we had a new striker on our books, albeit one who was clearly concerned with playing for his country and who would, all things being equal, rather have gone to Liverpool (and was intending to commute by helicopter).

Despite all those things, we didn't mind. Working on the basis that he'd play his heart out for the club and the shirt, I don't think anyone really cared where he lived or how he travelled.

Then came the games, and with Owen in the side, we did OK, until he was injured against Spurs.

That injury ruled him out for several months and when he did come back it was right at the end of the season, out of form and desperate to convince Sven to take him to Germany. Which the Swede duly did, only for Owen to crumple in a heap against Sweden.

At that point we lost the player for a year and when he returned, the pace which he previously enjoyed was, if not gone, then certainly on the wane.

From then, until the end of his contract (and that fateful afternoon at Villa Park) Owen enjoyed some highs in a black and white shirt. Notable performances against West Brom and West Ham both spring to mind, whilst his revinvention as man playing behind the strikers under Keegan perhaps showed Owen where he might play best as his career reaches its twilight years.

However, even when handed the captaincy, Owen continued to take his chopper to and from training, and while never one for clubbing, his social life remained in the North West.

When he left, no tears were shed over his departure, and the only sound was that of jaws dropping when it was announced that he was off to Old Trafford rather than the KC Stadium.

Reflecting back on his time, his goals-to-games ratio is actually pretty good. But his ratio of games he was available for to games he missed through injury is appalling. Quite simply while there are no guarantees with anyone's health or fitness, if you pay £16+ million up front and a fortune in wages, you would expect your employee to prioritise being fit to play for you, and in truth, to commit to the club. Owen did neither.

If he'd been injured playing for Newcastle, I think we would all have a different view of things, but as it was he was injured playing for England when he should have been at home recuperating.

A mercenary might play for the highest bidder, but generally speaking they do at least perform for their money. With Owen there remains a deeply held belief that he used us to try and keep his England place and when all sense would have seen him miss the 2006 World Cup, he convinced Sven to take him and as a result we never saw the best of him.

I can take a player being crocked playing for us. But being crocked playing for England, when you sense he wouldn't have made the same effort to turn out for Newcastle, grates.

If he'd given some sense of embracing the club and the region, of his heart being in it, then I'm sure we'd have warmed to Owen. But the truth is, he never made us feel loved, and for that (and the consequences of that approach) the responsibility is all Michael's.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent analysis of him trying to pass the buck when in reality he didnt give a hoot-couldnt have put it better..........

3:13 p.m.  
Blogger Ben said...

Well put, Paul. My response to Owen is a conflicted one - I'll admit I wouldn't have booed him, but you're right that he never showed much attachment to the club (more to the man who effectively signed him, Alan Shearer...). He would likely argue that you can't legislate for injuries, and in his defence he hadn't had a bad record before signing for us. But it wasn't just misfortune - he admitted he'd overstretched himself in his desire to play in the World Cup, so that crucial injury was at least partially self-inflicted, and hugely costly to the club that paid his wages (even if we did get some financial compensation from the FA).

Why claim we'd be more sympathetic and understanding if we knew "the facts" and yet not share them while complaining about our fans booing? What (or who) is stopping you from spilling the beans, Michael?

8:09 p.m.  

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