Shepherd blasts Liverpool over Owen

Just before Christmas Rafael Benitez attended a press-conference and was asked the inevitable questions about Michael Owen. It’s not much of a secret about how Owen wanted to come to Anfield, and would only consider a loan move to Newcastle, until the eleventh hour when Newcastle came up with the deal giving Owen a chance leave after one season on Tyneside – a four-year contract, but with a get-out clause. Some press have tried to put a spin on things by claiming Owen “snubbed” Liverpool, or that Benitez “messed up” the deal to bring him to Anfield. Neither is really true, and as Rafa said at the press conference there’s still room for Owen to make a comeback at Anfield: “Yes I could see him returning to Liverpool one day. That could happen – why not? He’s a top-class player, and you are always interested in players like that.”

Rafa explained how Liverpool are sill looking for a player like Owen, and although he’s already made it clear he won’t pay over the odds for any one player, Rafa says he’s not the only admire of Owen: “Everyone, every club, is on the look-out for a player like Michael, so why can’t he return to Liverpool? We tried to sign him right to the end in the summer.”

As well as the resolve by Liverpool not to be ripped off in the transfer market, Benitez says one other issue may have helped Owen make his mind up to spend the next season playing for the Geordies: “We did keep trying. I spoke to Michael a lot, and I said we would try right until the end, but he decided that he wanted to go to Newcastle because he wanted to play every week. I would never guarantee to any player that he would play every week.”

Those comments from Rafa have obviously caused the Newcastle chairman some indigestion from his Christmas Lunch as today he launched a blast at Rafa in the Daily Mirror. Freddy Shepherd told the newspaper Rafa must think the British public are “stupid”, and claims Owen is more than happy at Newcastle. “Does Rafa Benitez really think that the British public do not know the facts, and are stupid?”

Ignoring Liverpool’s refusal to be dragged into a bidding war and pay over-the-odds for Owen, Shepherd said: “We have a club that had just won the Champions League and was looking round Europe for a top striker. Now they want us to believe that they tried their best for Michael.”

Shepherd took a big chance on Owen being enough to prevent them from a disastrous season, and he seems to have helped so far. Owen had already agreed terms with Liverpool and was desperate to come back. Shepherd had to try hard to convince him to try Newcastle, and the inclusion of the get-out clause finally persuaded Owen a season in the North-East would be worthwhile. Perhaps this is what Shepherd meant when he said: “It was Newcastle United who did everything they could to sign Michael Owen. We are happy with what we have bought and Michael is more than happy to be here.”  

Shepherd also seems to have forgotten how pre-match press-conferences work. A manager speaks to the press, and unless something more major has just happened, will be asked questions about the opposition. Ex-Red Michael Owen returning to Anfield is likely to be a topic raised by the reporters, and Liverpool’s attempts to sign him in the summer were always going to be part of those questions. Shepherd tries to make what Rafa said in response to those questions sound more like a press-release deliberately released by the Anfield press-office: “I do not understand the motives of putting out this story before the two teams meet.”

For the Magpies skipper Alan Shearer there was no risk in paying so much above the odds for Owen. He said: “The chairman was prepared to blow everybody else out of the water with his £16m bid. He was willing to go that high because he knew exactly what he was getting.”