Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I’ll cry no tears for mercenary Owen

By  on March 19, 2013

On the day Michael Owen announced his upcoming retirement from football, Aaron Cutler looks back on the former Liverpool striker’s career.
When Michael Owen departed Anfield for Spain in 2004 he threw his legacy into question. Many supporters both recognised and appreciated his great feats in Liverpool red and wished him well. Just as strong however was the legion of fans who felt betrayed. Indeed for months the striker had pledged his allegiance to the cause without ever signing a new contract. That impasse eventually led to a cut price exit – with a mere £8 million hardly enriched by the addition of Antonio Nunez. The package itself represented scant reward for a player widely regarded as one of the football’s hottest properties.
Antipathy towards Owen was palpable if not sweeping, until of course he joined Manchester United in 2009. At that moment he essentially cut all ties with LFC, turning his back on an affiliation that began at twelve years old. It may be a sad incitement of football rivalry but the fact is on the day his retirement is announced, precious few reds fans will toast his career. It could and perhaps should be very different…
Anyone who grew up in the 90s will remember what a barren period it was for Liverpool. Sure, we played some quite dazzling football under Roy Evans and were always lodged somewhere within the top four. Nevertheless year-on-year we came up short, invariably to Alex Ferguson’s all conquering United. It was the era of Brit Pop and the Sky’s ‘reinvention’ of the beautiful game which propelled footballers to superstardom. At Anfield we had the infamous Spice Boys gang – freshly tailored in their cream suits and never far from the tabloids. Robbie Fowler was our key asset – the deadliest striker in the country, capable of reducing even Arsenal’s seasoned backline into quivering wrecks.
Around 1996 rumours began to emerge that we had a new kid on the block, hardly the air to Fowler’s crown but a baby faced accomplice. Michael Owen had been banging in goals galore for the youth and reserve sides and at 17 was on the cusp of a first team debut. Once paired with ‘God’ he would end our title draught.
His bow came at Selhurst Park on May 6 1997. With Fowler injured, Owen was drafted into the squad and came on as substitute with 60 minutes to play. With Liverpool trailing and their title hopes fading, the teenager made an instant impact. Latching onto a Stig Inge Bjornebye through-ball, Owen kept his nerve to slot coolly beyond Neil Sullivan. The reds lost the game but a star had been born.
His second goal came at the same ground on the first day of the following season. Despite objections from Danny Murphy, Owen took responsibility from the spot and dispatched a composed penalty.
With his strike partner sidelined for practically the entire campaign, Owen stepped up quite brilliantly that first full season. His pace terrified defenders, as did his sheer single-mindedness in front of goal. Despite being just 18, he was mixing it with the best defenders in the land and coming out on top. His 18 league goals (23 in all comps) earned him that season’s golden boot and the clamour for him to be involved in England’s World Cup squad grew by the day. He had already won his first cap that February in a friendly against Chile, an achievement he followed-up with his first top-flight hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
Of course the plane for France 98 took off with Owen on-board and his life would never quite be the same again. His wonder goal against Argentina sent the world’s media into a frenzy and turned the youngster into an overnight sensation. To his credit he knuckled down and continued to produce the goods for Liverpool.
A marvellous hat-trick at St. James’ Park early into the next campaign underlined his predatory instincts. Owen silenced any doubters claiming he was a one season wonder by plunging another 23 goals. However overall Liverpool toiled badly, with the club’s disastrous idea of joint-management ending in Roy Evans’ resignation and a seventh placed finish. To compound matters Owen sustained a career defining injury away to Leeds that April, tearing a hamstring which would sideline him for around eight months. Many claim he was never quite the same player, with his blistering pace now curtailed.
He missed around half of the following campaign as Gerard Houllier guided his new-look reds to fourth. The 2000/01 season however would go down as Owen’s finest – as Liverpool recorded a famous cup treble, whilst also finishing third to win Champions League qualification.
Partnered with Emile Heskey, Owen racked-up 24 goals in all competitions – including a late double to snatch the FA Cup from Arsenal’s grasp. Having been completely outclassed for 80 minutes, the 21 year old single handedly clawed his side back into proceedings before astonishingly winning the trophy with a left footed strike across David Seaman. His herculean efforts were duly acknowledged on the continent, as he was crowned European Player of the Year (Ballon d’Or) – ahead of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Pavel Nedved.
His fine form continued into the following year, as Houllier guided the reds to a second placed finish and the quarter finals of the Champions League. Owen helped himself to another 28 goals, a total he matched the following term despite a widely expected title challenge falling flat. A League Cup triumph over United was a rare highlight that testing season, with Owen scoring a memorable winner deep into stoppage time.
His final year at Anfield was tinged with disappointment. 19 goals was another healthy return but Owen’s body language was poor – and smacked of someone yearning for pastures new. His long-running contract stand-off continued to drag-on, with Houllier’s sacking signalling the end of an era.
One of Rafa Benitez’s first tasks as incoming boss was to fly-out to England’s Euro 2004 base and present his vision to Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. All three claimed to have bought into the Spaniard’s meticulous thinking but when Real Madrid made tentative enquiries about Owen’s availability his commitment vanished. An unused substitute for Benitez’s first game away to AK Graz, he left the club the next day – claiming he wanted to win major honours.
Of course the great irony is it was Liverpool and not Madrid who went on to win the European Cup that season. Owen won nothing in Spain and was reduced to a limited role behind Raul and Ronaldo. A widely mooted return to Anfield the following summer was gazumped when Newcastle blew us out of the water with a £16 million bid. Rick Parry, for all his faults, knew full well that selling someone for £8 million and buying them back for double the price made no business sense. And so Owen moved to Tyneside and began a huge descent.
His spell in the North East was an unhappy one, plagued by injuries and culminating in relegation. A free agent going into 2009/10 he decided to take-up Sir Alex Ferguson’s offer of a final hurrah – to the dismay of Kopites everywhere. Already tarred with accusations of greed and smugness, betrayal was now added to that list.
So how will history judge a man we once called St Michael?
In truth he should be regarded as a Liverpool legend. His strike record of 158 in 297 appearances is phenomenal, while his overall goal ratio is bettered by only four Liverpool players. His heroics at the Millennium Stadium to win us the FA Cup were incredible, as was his knack of scoring vital goals in big games. Remember Roma away in 2001? His double at Goodison in 2003? Numerous strikes against United? Furthermore he graduated from The Academy and was one of our own, if only for a brief period before the England circus swallowed him up.
Yet on the flipside he always seemed aloof – more concerned with his international career and almost robotic compared to the scaly-wag style of Fowler – who The Kop adored. He also always seemed destined to try his luck abroad, rather than commit his entire career to the club as Gerrard and Carragher have. He left under a cloud, sulking in a similar vain to Torres some years later and just like the Spaniard must regret that decision every day. His love for horse racing also seems to have outweighed his love of football in recent years.
In fairness to him once a free agent he had a choice of Stoke, Wigan and United. The most blinded of Liverpool fans will admit there was hardly much competition but even so, he knew opting to join our fiercest rivals would destroy his legacy.
No longer will he be invited back with open arms such as legends Ian Rush, Roger Hunt and John Aldridge. No longer will he rank high in countdowns such as the upcoming 100 Players Who Shook The Kop series. Never again will his name be sung by reds supporters. Indeed the ill-feeling towards him was best evidenced when whispers about a possible return emerged last summer. Online forums and radio airwaves were packed full off irate Scousers demanding any interest end immediately.
And for what? A title winner’s medal for a season he played next to no part in? A role that would be classed as bit-part at best, invisible in truth? Only he can tell you whether that was worth it.
In many ways his is a sad story. Michael Owen had the world at his feet ten years ago and a culmination of bad injuries, bad advice and bad decisions brought-about the end of his career far too soon. He practically retired four years ago and today’s announcement has been met with such satire you forget what a wonderful talent he once was.
Owen’s great mate Jamie Carragher will bow-out on the same day, May 19. If history had been different they may have left the Anfield turf and the sport itself together following our game with QPR that Sunday. As it is, only one will receive an emotional ovation from The Kop. I’ll tear it up for Carra, while Owen will not even cross my mind. And there lies the difference.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Liverpool FC hit for six as memorable tour comes to fitting finale in Malaysia ..

Jul 18 2011 by Philip Kirkbride, Liverpool Echo

IT was perhaps fitting that at the end of an extraordinary trip to Malaysia, Liverpool would produce such a raucous scoreline.
This has been like no other pre-season tour in memory for the Reds and after three days of enjoying demigod status, the players bid farewell to Kuala Lumpur in the best way possible.
Nearly a full house crammed into the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, a southern suburb of the capital city, on Saturday night to witness an historic final occasion on Liverpool’s maiden Malaysian expedition.
A nine-goal game, with the right balance of home success stories to keep both sides of the fans’ loyalties satisfied but with the desired outcome, was pretty much all they could have asked for as they left Anfield over a week ago.
Despite the sweltering conditions of early evening KL, the game took time to warm up before it burst into life for a rousing finale.
Given it was only Liverpool’s second competitive run out of the summer so far, and that the suffocating humidity can suck the life out of the fittest players with ease, it was understandable much of the first hour was driven in a low gear.
Not that the devoted masses cared and after almost 38,000 came to the same venue – built for the 1998 Commonwealth Games – to watch the team train on Thursday night, double that wanted to make Liverpool’s send off one never to forget.
Organisers had asked to make the National Stadium a home from home earlier this week and though replicating the Anfield thrill is an impossible task, the supporters still managed to create an astonishing atmosphere.
One which can only be compared to that of a major cup final, such was the passion booming from the stands.
From the excitement of the fans as they travelled on the train to the match to when inside the ground, everything about the weekend’s friendly was in line with what the Liverpool players quickly learnt was par for the course in these parts. Bedlam was a word which often cropped up in conversation.
Tales of how the Chinese fans showed their loyalty to Dalglish’s men will become stellar anecdotes for years to come but when the pre-season trip progressed to Malaysia, the Asian support became a different beast all together.
And after serving up a 90 minutes to remember for the Malaysian public, Liverpool’s invitation to return will be waiting for them when they arrive back at Melwood, although it was always going to be.
Liverpool will look back fondly of the three days they spent in KL and how the excursion has proved an invaluable chance to engage their Asian fans, but they cannot afford too much sentiment because getting the players fit, staying free of injury and slowly sharpening the reflexes is always the priority at this time, never mind how many thousands of miles you fly.
Thankfully, the Reds reported no ill affects from facing the Malaysian national team before they moved onto Singapore on Sunday ahead of a return to England today.
With the start of the new Premier League season just under a month away, encounters at this time of year and against such opposition – Malaysia are ranked 144th globally and preparing for a World Cup qualifier against Singapore next week – should not be given great scrutiny.
Charlie Adam will perhaps take some of the greatest satisfaction, although David Ngog and Maxi Rodriguez will value their double strikes as timely reminders to the manager of their quality, though the former’s goals may yet be his parting gift.
Adam, perhaps more significantly, grabbed his first goal for Liverpool after being handed a maiden start.
Following Wednesday’s substitute debut in the 4-3 win over Guangdong Sunray Cave in China, the former Blackpool captain was on the pitch to hear the opening whistle on Saturday and opened the scoring after 27 minutes from the penalty spot after Andy Carroll was felled by Mohammad Fadhli Mohd Shas.
At the second time of asking, when the referee ordered his initial, successful penalty to be retaken, Adam fired with confidence beyond Mohd Sharbinee Allawee.
The lead would only last 15 minutes as Malaysia stirred for the first of their two fightbacks on the night.
In a rare foray forward, with Liverpool having dominated possession, the hosts won a free-kick 20 yards from goal which captain Shafiq Rahim used to full effect, finding the top right hand corner of Brad Jones’ goal.
Cue a question of loyalty from the stands.
Prior to kick-off, national coach Dakut J Rajagopal had called for the Malaysian public to put their adoration for Liverpool to one side and support their side homeland; he asked them to wear blue instead of the red.
His cry fell on deaf ears until Rahim equalised and though part of the fans were drawn to cheering on their countrymen, as thoughts of a famous victory crossed their mind, they too remained loyal to Liverpool.
Ngog’s quick fire double with 22 minutes remaining still produced joy from the spectators and too lit the touch paper on a frantic final period.
With Ngog having made it 3-1, Maxi pounced from close range on 76 minutes to extend Liverpool’s lead to three.
Malaysian substitute Mohd Safee Mohd Sali threatened to steal the show with a swift two-goal haul of his own as he slotted past Martin Hansen, a second half replacement for Peter Gulacsi, twice in as many minutes.
But after Maxi nodded in his second from six yards to make it 5-3, Dirk Kuyt then lashed home deep into injury time to add some final gloss to a picture perfect trip.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pictures taken by LFC tv during the Training session on 14th July - bukit Jalil

An incredible 37,800 fans watched Liverpool train for the very first time in Malaysia on Thursday night. Here's some great pictures from the occasion...

Raul: I'd like to come back

Raul Meireles today told thousands of fans here in Malaysia that he'd like to return to the country that has shown so much love for him and his teammates on this pre-season tour.

Addressing an audience of thousands of hysterical Reds at a Standard Chartered-sponsored player appearance at The Pavilion shopping mall in downtown Kuala Lumpur this afternoon, Meireles admitted that he'd never seen scenes like it before.

After waving to fans who were chanting 'Raul must stay, Raul must stay', he took hold of the microphone and explained what the trip has meant to the players.

"It been an amazing experience," he said, when asked on stage what he thought of Liverpool's first ever visit to the country. "Would I like to come back to Malaysia? Yes, for sure. Everywhere we go there are thousands of fans. We couldn't believe what we saw last night at training and that was just a training session. When we play on Saturday, it will be really special. The fans here are so passionate."
Filming the crowd on his iPhone and struggling to be heard over the screaming and Liverpool chants from the fans who packed into every spare inch of the shopping centre - on multiple levels - to catch a glimpse of their heroes, Christian Poulsen, the scorer of Liverpool's first goal of the tour in China, echoed Meireles when he said: "All of this is just awesome.

"Last night was unbelievable but this is just as crazy. Hopefully we can win the game on Saturday to repay the support we've seen so far. Maybe, a repeat scoreline of 4-3 will be good for everyone - the Liverpool fans and the Malaysia fans."

Liverpool FC Asia Tour update..Fri 15th July 2011

Friday July 15 13:57 - Paul Rogers
Just back in the hotel after attending a Standard Chartered event in a shopping mall in downtown KL. To describe it as total madness would be an understatement. The players were litterally mobbed as they made their way to the stage with thousands of fans rushing towards them to try and touch their heroes. Andy Carroll and Jamie Carragher proved to be the most popular players present while Raul Meireles looked to be having fun - out of all the players, he's definitely one of the ones who seems to be enjoying the Beatles-like hysteria that follows the team everywhere. When the traditional drummers were doing their ear-splitting thing ringht in front of the players, he was getting right into it - doing a dance for the watching fans and flashing cameras. In the absolute chaos of trying to get back to the waiting cars after doing an in-bank appearance, LFC TV Online's Mark Volante was left behind with no money and no phone (he had it stolen a few days ago) as the police needed to get the players to the mall. Lucky for him, we got caught in traffic and he was picked up wandering down the street in the direction of the mall. Look out for a video from him showing the crazy scenes later.
Oh, and if you're on Facebook, check out my (very shaky) Flip video of the fans at the stadium last night - great scenes here ion Malaysia: (You better watch it, it only took 17 hours to upload on my wifi connection here in the hotel!)

Friday July 15 14:30 - Claire Rourke
We're just on our way to an adidas event with Dirk Kuyt, Charlie Adam, Raul Meireles and Jack Robinson.
The roads are extremely busy, but thanks to our police escort, who are all but pushing cars out of the way on the journey, we should arrive on time for a Q&A and signing session with local media and adidas competition winners.
Friday July 15 13:57 - Paul Rogers
Quick update: Off to Standard Chartered appearance in shopping centre with Steve Clarke, Jamie Carragher, Andy Carroll, John Flanagan, Maxi, Raul Meireles and Soto. Up to a thousand fans expected so should be good. Also, just seen the room being kitted out for anothjer Standard Chartered event tonight - looks's brilliant. Will post a picture later.
Friday July 15 11:30 - Paul Eaton
We've spent an enjoyable morning at an adidas soccer clinic with the community coaching team.
We arrived in the midst of pouring rain - the heavens had truly opened - and we all thought we would be in for a soaking, but thankfully nobody's spirits were dampened by the weather and more than 30 kids from the local area were given the chance to further their football education with a series of practice drills devised by our coaching team.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the morning was arriving at the venue and bumping into John Barnes. Upon spotting us, he laughed: "I only live five minutes away from your offices and we fly halfway around the world to meet one another!"
Barnes is over here working on the Copa America for TV and will also be taking up co-commentary duties on Liverpool's friendly match with a Malaysia XI tomorrow night.
Once again it was brilliant to see so many kids having such a good time and clearly enjoying being given this once in a lifetime opportunity to learn the Liverpool Way.

Friday July 15 10:05 - Paul Rogers
Just got up after a much-needed first lie in of the trip – not going to bed on Wednesday night killed me - and feel a million times better. Anyway, here’s last night’s blog update which I couldn’t post due to connection problems:Not long finished eating dinner in the hotel - food was proper nice - and am about to try and quickly knock together a little video montage of the fans from training earlier tonight. Paul Eaton wasn't exaggerating in his update earlier – the crowd scenes at the stadium were phenomenal. I’ve certainly never seen a Mexican wave amongst fans at a training session before but then again, I can’t ever remember seeing almost 38,000 fans at a training session before. From the minute the players walked out until the moment they boarded their bus to return to the hotel, the singing, screaming and cheering didn’t let up. It was like we’d just walked into the stadium with our first league title for 20 years! Very impressive. Saw loads of kids – and even some babies too – being held aloft by their proud parents. Always nice to see the next generation of Reds already been groomed to support the greatest club on the planet – although, one dad was getting so carried away holding his baby up for me to film on my Flip camcorder that he didn’t realise the only thing I was filming was a screaming baby with a look of absolute horror on her face. Still, at least the dad enjoyed the moment!

Liverpool FC Asia Tour update..Thurs 14th July 2011

Thursday July 14 22:21 - Paul Eaton
It's been another busy day and I am just back in the hotel now after travelling back from Liverpool's open training session in Kuala Lumpur. If anyone doubted Liverpool's fans who live thousands of miles away are as passionate as those who live in Anfield then the scenes inside the Bukit Jalil National Stadium will dispel those doubts.
It was also a surreal experience for myself and cameraman Paul Hayton. Shortly after arriving at the stadium while the players all turned left to head to the dressing room, Paul and I walked out through the tunnel and the sight of our white Liverpool Standard Chartered tracksuits were enough to bring 38,000 fans to their feet. The noise was deafening and took us somewhat by surprise!
We were only the warm up for the main act, though, and when Kenny and the lads took to the field the place went crazy. It's on nights like this that we're all so proud to work for and represent Liverpool Football Club.
The players went through a full session and ended it with a lap of honour having changed into their new adidas third strip.
As we left the stadium, we could only imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like on Saturday night considering how loud it was for a training session this evening
Thank you Malaysia for the brilliant welcome we've had so far.

Thursday 14 July 17:05 – Paul Rogers
Just back from providing live Twitter coverage to all the @LFC followers for a special Standard Chartered-sponsored Q&A session with Phil Thompson hosting a sit down interview with Ian Ayre and Kenny Dalglish in front of an invited audience of 50 fans. For those who didn't get the chance to follow the Twitter coverage, Thommo was a great host - funny and passionate at the same time - while Kenny was in particularly sharp form. On the hundreds of fans waiting to greet the team when they arrived at 6am in Malaysia, Kenny joked: 'I couldn't believe that they were all there at that time of the morning. It was either amazing or they were all homeless...' On the players being in awe of the support in Asia: "We've brought a lot of young kids with us and what an experience it is for them to see these scenes with so many fans. Jack Robinson is 17, Conor Coady is 18, Andre Wisdom is 18, Flanno is young, Shelvey is young - although he looks 40!" And finally, on his return to manager's dugout after 20 years away: "Aye, it's going well, we haven't lost a game since May!"

Top three highlights of Thursday for me:
1. Meeting Sheldon Xavier for a chat in our hotel lobby this morning. Sheldon has been writing a great blog about the LFC tour from a fan perspective as he lives here in Kuala Lumpur. We had a great chat about all things LFC and he rather also promised me he’ll bring me a stuffed Malaysian tiger for my kids – which was very nice of him! Click here to check out his blog:

2. Walking round the entire running track of the Bukit Jalil Stadium with Ian Rush, Phil Thompson and Ian Ayre just after arriving at the ground for training earlier. The amount of stuff – shirts, scarves, caps, even a dirty white vest at one point – that was getting thrown over the moat for Rushie and Thommo to sign was unbeleievable and full credit to the pair for signing everything they did. Later, when the pair were sat in the bar - with Rushie buying everyone’s beers – they were still talking about the atmosphere at the training session. “I’ve never been to Malaysia before,” Thommo told me, “but it’s amazing. The whole day has been superb from start to finish. I’ve loved it.”
3. Meeting so many fantastic groups of fans – particularly hanging around the hotel. As I’ve recently fallen off the smoking bandwagon after five years without a single cigarette (I’ve promised my wife and kids I’ll pack in when I get back to the UK – which will be quite difficult if I buy more in Duty Free), I’ve spent a bit of time outside the hotel lobby enjoying the odd cigarette or three and so have spent loads of time chatting and getting to know loads of the fans from both here in Malaysia – and before in China. It’s brilliant to just talk with the fans and ask them about their passion for LFC and their lives in general. Two fans I met earlier were Ashikin Majid and Meor Ezammer (pictured together below with lucky mascot ‘Shy Baby Remmaze’) who are getting married next Saturday and hope to go to Anfield on their honeymoon...