Late last week the local press in Liverpool reported on stories that have been gaining momentum "off the record" in recent weeks – namely that Michael Owen wants to come back home to Liverpool.
According to the stories, Owen is unhappy with life in Spain and is missing his home life in North Wales. It’s not really a footballing decision – he’s happy enough with his minutes on the field for Real Madrid – it’s more the fact he’s not enjoying being away from his family and friends.
For Owen to come back to England there’s only one club he wants to play for – and that’s Liverpool. He doesn’t want to be unpopular, and knows that Manchester United would not be the club to go to. Any other clubs are just too far away from the family and friends he’s missing so much. National newspapers have picked up on the story, and in some cases have added Manchester United as a likely destination for the England star.
The talk from inside Anfield is that Liverpool’s Rick Parry and David Moores would love to welcome Owen back at the right price, or even on loan. Rafa Benitez is said to be less keen – not that he doesn’t want Owen, just that he’s already decided how he wants to spend his budget. Peter Crouch is on his shopping list, although the longer Southampton hold out, the more chance there is that Benitez will look elsewhere. Now this weekend there are flimsy reports that Milan Baros is wanted by West Ham – for £5.5million. Maybe the sale of Baros would be the key to a Liverpool move for Owen.
Owen himself is with his Real Madrid team mates on their club’s World Tour. At the moment they are in the States, where Owen spoke to the LA Daily News to deny the stories about him wanting to go back to England.
Just under a year ago Owen made his move to Madrid, only days after saying he expected to sign a new deal at Anfield. Differing stories emerge about the circumstances of his move, but Owen claims he wasn’t desperate to leave the club he’d been with since being a schoolboy: "I didn’t have great desire to leave Liverpool, but once Real Madrid comes knocking, it’s one of only a few clubs in the world everyone wants to play for." It’s the same story that Owen told when he did move – there’s nothing wrong with Liverpool, he still loves the club, but how could he pass up the opportunity to play alongside Ronaldo and Zidane? "That’s the primary reason I came here from Liverpool. One of the big things was trying to improve my game and playing with all the top players in the world. This is the pinnacle of everyone’s career, and I wanted to come and give it a try."
In his first season in Spain he made 36 appearances – only 20 of which he started. He scored 13 goals in those games though, some vital, as Real Madrid ultimately missed out on winning La Liga by a much smaller margin than many had feared.
We’ve already pointed out that Owen’s unhappiness is off the field, not on it. So when the US press asked if he was unhappy he carefully worded his denial: "I’m not unhappy at all. When I joined the club, I don’t think people expected me to play as much as I did last year, score as much as I did. I can’t understand why a lot of this speculation comes about. You get this every year at Real Madrid. It’s such a big team, it’s always who’s the next star coming, who’s the next star leaving. … If the manager says something about a couple players, and my name is mentioned, the press is quite quick to spin it around. I haven’t done an interview in two months when all this came out. It was strange to see my name with this."
Owen’s attempts at a move back home need to be finalised soon though – Rafa Benitez needs to know what cards he’s got to play with. Owen’s second game on US soil last night saw his Madrid side beat Gaudalajara 3-1 in Chicago. His debut in the States was at the end of last season when he scored a hat-trick for England in their 3-2 friendly win over Colombia in New Jersey.
Despite many rumours to the contrary, Luis Figo is in the USA with the rest of his team mates, and he did make an appearance for Madrid in last night’s match. The future of the Portugese star does look set to be tied up in the early part of this week though. Figo has negotiated his settlement fee with Madrid, and they have dropped their demands for a transfer fee. All that is left now is for the player to choose Italy or England as his destination. If what he said about Liverpool being a dream move for him is true, he’ll probably be pictured in the Reds number 11 shirt early in the week.