I’m conflicted, and I don’t know whether to laugh furiously or start breaking things.
I’ve guiltily admitted it before – Michael Owen is the reason I follow Liverpool. But were it just about Michael Owen, I’d have stopped following Liverpool four years ago.
My “soccer” watching began in earnest at Italia ’90. The US weren’t playing, and even at the tender age of eight, I was an anglophile. I remember the stingy group stage, Platt’s lone goal in the round of 16, Gazza’s tears, and my first experience with English futility from the penalty spot (against the Germans no less). Even the American hoopla four years later, which England couldn’t even qualify for, didn’t turn me back.
And then there was 1998. And that goal against Argentina. And that goalscorer who wasn’t much older than me. I had to find out who he played for. And from then on, I was a Liverpool fan. Thanks to the recent rise of the Internet, I could follow results, watch few-and-far-between highlights, and order VHSs and then DVDs. And I was hooked.
Every year I’ve followed Liverpool, I’ve cared less about individual players, and far less about England. The beauty of club football and the legacy of Liverpool, I guess. But I still admittedly have a soft spot for Michael Owen – despite his Judas transfer to Real in 2004, despite not forcing a move to Liverpool instead Newcastle, and despite him not doing a damned thing for the past three seasons. When I went to England in 2003, the second thing I did after getting off the plane was buy an Owen jersey (I was 20; the first thing I did was buy alcohol). Nostalgia is a hard mistress to dismiss.
But if this proposed move to Manchester United goes through, that soft spot’s dead. And I’m having trouble deciding if I care enough to set fire to that jersey in my driveway (to be filmed, naturally).
What it comes down to is whether Owen will really make a difference, and Ferguson’s motivation for the transfer.
I’ll come out and say it. I think this transfer is completely and totally mind games. Ferguson wants to stick it to Liverpool, and more specifically, Liverpool fans. And what better way than by signing a former “icon” (term used very loosely)?
On record alone, Owen shouldn’t have a prayer at signing with the league champions. Oft-injured, shorn of the pace that won him the Ballon d’Or, and fielding offers from the likes of Hull and Stoke (thanks to that gorgeous brochure put out by his agents). And now United’s in for him? Even though they have Rooney, Berbatov, Macheda, Welbeck, and Manucho (and Campbell, although he’s likely to be sold), and even though they’ve been linked with pretty much every top-tier striker? He’s certainly no Benzema, Ribery, Aguero, or Villa, not at this stage.
Ferguson was clever in purchasing Henrik Larsson in ‘06-07, and this, at best, is a similar deal. But I honestly think Owen has even less in the tank than Larsson did, and he’s five or so years younger than Larsson was at that stage. Plus, isn't that £80m bonanza supposed to be used for transfers?
I can’t be mad at Owen, though. Given the option of playing for a bottom-half team or the champions, well, it isn’t really an option, no matter previous loyalties. A job is a job is a job, and I’d rather a job with the more successful company. There’s little downside for Michael in this move, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect his decision.
Will Owen see games if he signs with United? Probably. Will he score goals? Probably, at least a few. Will he actually have an impact? Less likely, but a distinct possibility. However, the sure thing is that the transfer will prompt reactions like mine, and raise the stakes for next season that much more.
It’s only July and the mind games have started. Outstanding.