Silly season latest: Owen to United

Temperatures in England have soared in recent days, and the heat seems to have gone to the heads of those sports writers that aren’t away on holidays. It’s the silly season, and it’s as silly as ever.

The silly season consists of numerous amounts of speculation, rumours and even (possibly) made-up stories – all reported as "fact". There are rarely any quotes, and when there are they are from "friends" and "insiders" – nobody is ever named. Sometimes old quotes are re-used, sometimes old stories are dusted off and given a slight twist.

Liverpool, Champions of Europe, are not immune to the stories. Whether it’s players leaving or players joining, you can be sure that Liverpool will be mentioned every day. And that’s without mentioning the other favourite type of story – linking ex-players with moves to rivals.

A "story" that’s figured in numerous papers over the weekend and today
is about Michael Owen. Brought up at Anfield practically, he went to
Real Madrid last summer for a deal of in the region of £8m. Cheap for
Madrid because Owen would have been available for free a year later.
There’s a lot of talk that the deal between Liverpool and Real included
first option for Liverpool on Owen if he were to be sold. The press
have now decided that Owen is leaving, Liverpool don’t want him, and
he’s off to one of Liverpool’s biggest rivals. Manchester United.  

Liverpool may or may not have first refusal over the player, but Owen
would risk becoming extremely unpopular with Liverpool fans if he were
to move to Old Trafford. He is getting married pretty soon this summer
and stories claim that he wants to be home in England – or more
precisely home in North Wales. To be able to live in North Wales and
play in the Premiership his choices are limited. Liverpool and
Manchester United are possibly the only clubs in travelling distance
that could afford a fee for the player as well as his wages.

There’s no smoke without fire though, so where did this story
originate? Strangely enough, in the paper Owen writes for. The News of
The World. According to the paper Owen quite fancies a move to Old
Trafford. Owen himself hasn’t said anything –  the story comes from "a
source close to" the England international. This source said: "It looks
like Real are ready to sell. If that is the case, he has a hankering to
play for United. He does realise it wouldn’t go down too well with the
Anfield fans who used to idolise him – but that is something he is
prepared to live with. He enjoys partnering Wayne Rooney with England
and would love to link up with him at club level."

Different papers take different slants on this possibility. Some are
saying that Manchester United’s budget of around £6.5m has already been
spent, and others are saying that Malcolm Glazer has approved the move.
Still more stories say that the Glazers are unsure, but are being
pressed by boss Alex Ferguson.

Owen was unused at Madrid for two-thirds of the season. Then coach
Wanderley Luxembergo decided to drop Figo in order to accommodate Raul,
Owen and Ronaldo in the same team. Owen started knocking the goals in
and Madrid’s form improved dramatically. Madrid won’t be selling unless
they get a decent fee for the player – they want more than the £8m they
paid for him, as they’ll be forced to pay Owen bonuses for ending his
contract early.

Owen is "looked after" by the SFX agency, and they also look after
Liverpool’s current captain Steven Gerrard. They look after Gary
Lineker too, ironic after last week’s court case with Harry Kewell over
an article criticising agents. Are agents to blame for the latest set
of Steven Gerrard rumours? Gerrard spent the whole of last season
linked with a move to Chelsea, but now that Chelsea have said they
don’t want him, the player is now a target of Real Madrid. And AC Milan
occasionally. The story today in the Daily Mail, written by Matt
Lawton, claims that Rafa Benitez and Steven Gerrard don’t get on.

The article uses quotes from Gerrard from a couple of weeks ago, mixed
with quotes from those famous "sources". When asked about his future,
Gerrard said last week (to Sky Sports News): "The ball’s in Liverpool’s
court now. I’m ready to talk and sort everything out. I’m just waiting
for them to give me the nod about where and when, and me and my
advisers will be there. Of course, I want to stay at Liverpool. We
haven’t spoken about a new contract yet, so I don’t know how long the
talks will go on for. The sooner we get under way the better, because I
want my future sorted out before the season starts."

These quotes came very soon after Liverpool were told their season
would be starting a month earlier than expected, and it was Steven’s
first interview since the week of the Champions League final. The Daily
Mail describe his as "frustrated". This leads the article on nicely to
their idea – the article says: "…by last night, a possible reason for
the delay became apparent: a deal, prior to contract talks even
starting, with Madrid. One source said the relationship between Gerrard
and Benitez was ‘not what you would normally think exists between
captain and manager’, while the publication of figures and the names of
little-known Madrid players Benitez wants has also fuelled suspicion
that Gerrard may not be at Anfield next season."

This is a reference to the speculation late last week saying Liverpool
wanted £32million for Gerrard, along with youngsters Javi Garcia, Ruben
De la Red and Alvaro Arbeloa thrown in for good measure. The next part
of the article is quite laughable in many ways. The article says, "It
would not be the first time that Benitez… has employed such tactics
for raising money and recruiting good young Spanish players. It was a
surprise to many that he was so happy to let Michael Owen leave for
Madrid last summer in a cash-plus-players deal."  The fact that Owen
was let go because he had one year left on a contract he was refusing
to sign an extension to was glossed over. The fact that Liverpool got
such a small fee for the player they’d had since he was a child was
glossed over. The fact that Liverpool got Antonio Nunez in the deal –
not a bad player by any means, but not world class either -was also
glossed over.

So the paper is now ready to predict what happens next: "Last night,
sources outlined a possible scenario: one that sees contract talks
break down amid accusations from Liverpool that Gerrard is demanding
too much money before then being sold, either to Madrid or to Chelsea."

We aren’t saying that Gerrard will sign a new deal – there could be a
sticking point somewhere in the negotiations that just can’t be
overcome. Benitez won’t hang around for ever, but the Daily Mail story
seems to have too many holes in it. Especially when you read the
comments made by Rafael Benitez in some publications today: "We are
preparing a special weightlifting plan for Gerrard’s shoulders because
we want him to lift a lot of trophies for Liverpool in the next few
years. I am not in favour of selling him. We are building a great team
around him because we want him to be the captain who wins the most
titles in Liverpool’s history. I know he feels the same way because we
have already talked about it. We had important offers last year but I
wanted him to stay with Liverpool and he stayed with us — that was
rewarded with us winning a big competition and it’s our wish to
continue on the same road with him."

Unfortunately we’ve still got three weeks until Liverpool’s first game
in the Champions League, which means three more weeks of this type of
story being published. Our advice – don’t take it too seriously.