With Michael Owen set to go under the knife here in the states, I can’t help but wonder what could have been. The whole situation is just sad. I’ve said it before, discovering Owen in 1998 at the same time I wanted to learn more about soccer led me to Liverpool. He was easily my favorite player until he left for Madrid. Almost as soon as I stepped onto English soil when I lived over there in 2003, I bought a kit with his name and number on it; to date it’s the only kit I own with a player’s name on it.
The thing is, with Liverpool, the more I learned about the club, the less Owen meant to me as a player, as harsh as that sounds. Growing up in America, you can’t help but define teams by star players, it’s the cult of celebrity that follows us everywhere. As I grew up in a city without any major professional teams, every team I root for is based on which team had my favorite player when I was getting into that sport. And while I still root for those same teams, every time that player left the team or retired, I began to care a little less. Not with Owen. Not only was I more obsessed with the team over the player by the time he left, I even thought that he wasn’t the right fit for the way Benitez wanted to play. Of course, Liverpool’s scoring since has left much to be desired (especially last season), but the team plays in stark contrast to Houllier’s hit and hope method based around Mickey.
While he possibly could have challenged Rushie’s all-time goals mark (nearly halfway there!), Mickey never would have been as loved as Rush, or Fowler or Dalglish. Maybe that’s why he left. Maybe he left because he truly believed that he could make it big at Real Madrid, and be the first English player to succeed on the continent in ages. Maybe he didn’t want to establish himself under a new manager, or maybe Benitez told him he was free to look for a new club if he wished.
But the fact remains, he chose to leave Liverpool in the prime of his career, and for a paltry sum to boot. That’s why I’m indifferent to him now as I was indifferent to his possible return before he signed for Newcastle. By no means do I wish him ill, I wouldn’t wish his awful streak of injuries on any player (that didn’t play for United or Everton). I sincerely hope the ACL surgery goes smashingly, as the Premier League needs Michael Owen on form. But he’s just another player. And Liverpool is still Liverpool.