Owen ready for another uncomfortable afternoon
back at Liverpool
15:16 GMT, 5 October 2012
They will give him a generous ovation on Sunday. As is usually the case when a former player’s name is read out, the Kop will clap, sing his old song and recognise the service he gave.
Given he appeared in a European final, played a crucial role in helping Liverpool win an FA Cup and lead the line with distinction, becoming a crowd favourite in the process, it is only right that the Kop will look to acknowledge Peter Crouch when sets foot on Anfield’s turf once more.
This way to Anfield: Michael Owen can expect a lukewarm reception
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What happens when Michael Owen does something similar, however, will be completely different.
He did all the things Crouch did for Liverpool and more but, for him, the best scenario for which he can hope is muted applause.
It is nothing new, of course. Owen has been back to play at Anfield on several occasions since he left for Real Madrid in 2004 for both Newcastle United and Manchester United – he even pulled on a Red shirt during Jamie Carragher’s testimonial in September 2010.
Each time he return, though, it sharpens the focus of what could and should have been but now never will be. Owen, remember, was one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation. In 2001, he won the FA Cup final almost single-handedly and was named European Footballer of the Year.
During one of the many transitional periods Liverpool have endured in the past two decades, Owen’s emergence was genuinely thrilling and whenever the club had a big game, he could be relied upon to come up with the goods.
With a tally of 158 goals in 297 appearances, Owen, by rights, should receive the warmest of welcomes whenever he comes back to the place that was once his home but now all he can expect is indifference and ambivalence.
Golden boy: Owen started his career at Liverpool and was once a hero
Now this is not a sob story on Owen’s
behalf. Far from it. There are reasons – plenty of them valid – as to
why the Kop have lost their rapport with the former England
international and sympathy is not something he will ever get at Anfield.
Owen, after all, is accountable for the decisions he made.
For starters, there was the manner in which he left in 2004. Having indicated that he was ready to sign a new contract, he sat out Rafael Benitez’s first game against AK Graz in the Champions League and within days had signed for Madrid.
Then, when presented with the chance to re-sign for Liverpool 12 months later, he chose to join Newcastle instead at the last minute. When he headed back to Anfield that Christmas for a Premier League game, he was the subject of chants of, among others things, 'Where were you in Istanbul'
‘I could see the deflation in his eyes and recognised how hurt he was,’ Carragher wrote in his autobiography about the incident. ‘To see a player who had played his heart out for us on the end of a reception so untypical of those that former Anfield heroes usually get was depressing.
‘Over the years I’ve seen players who didn’t contribute half as much as Michael, and some who were only here for a season or two, be welcomed back as if they had played 500 games and won dozen of trophies. It made no sense.’
Of course, any hope that bridges would have been rebuilt were extinguished when Owen went to Manchester United in 2009 but, given he was without a club at that time, it was hardly an offer he could refuse, particularly as Liverpool showed no interest then to bring him back.
There was talk about Owen being drafted back to Liverpool as an emergency measure last month but it lacked substance. Brendan Rodgers has a vision in mind and it does not include signing a 32-year-old who has not started a Premier League game for two years and three days.
Tony Pulis, though, has an idea in mind for Owen and the Potteries are where he will see out his playing days. But what happens then
Will Owen ever return to Anfield and watch a game from the stands Will he be welcomed back, say, if a reunion takes place for the treble winners of 2001
To look at everything Owen achieved for Liverpool, those questions should not be asked. That they are tells you everything about a sad situation.