Six years after leaving Merseyside for the bright lights of Real Madrid, former fan favourite Michael Owen returned to Anfield wearing the red of Liverpool for Jamie Carragher’s testimonial last Saturday.
Carragher and Owen were both members of the club’s 1996 FA Cup youth winning squad and made their first-team debuts within months of each other. Defender Carragher has since gone onto become a club legend, making over 600 appearances for Liverpool, in a career spanning over two decades. Owen of course cut his ties with the club in the summer of 2004 after 297 games and 158 goals for The Reds. Yet despite this and his two FA Cup final goals against Arsenal, which helped clinch a unique cup treble in 2001, Owen still divides fan opinion today.
While Owen received a warm reception from the majority of Reds fans at the recent testimonial, there were still an undercurrent of boos ringing out around Anfield during his 45-minute cameo. Owen is no stranger to this however after previously receiving a barrage of abuse from the Kop fans that once idolised him on his return with Newcastle in December 2005, when he was greeted with chants of ‘Where were you in Istanbul?’ and ‘What a waste of talent’.
It was more of the same last season when Owen received a venomous reception upon returning with rivals Manchester United. Liverpool fans are however renowned for applauding their returning players and most in attendance were attempting to uphold this tradition throughout the game for the return of the prodigal son.
So has Owen finally been forgiven for walking out on the club during Rafael Benitez’s first year at the club? Not just yet he hasn’t. Owen should however be commended for returning to run the fiery Anfield gauntlet to celebrate the career of one of his closest friends in the game. With all the proceedings from the match going to local charities through Carragher’s 23 foundation, it would have been harsh to be too cruel on the returning marksman. Steven Gerrard, who also managed a ten minute appearance, confirmed his former team-mate was worried about the reception he might receive:
“I suppose he was slightly concerned about the reception he’d get, which was a mixed bag, but he went for Jamie.
“They were so close when he was at the club and are still close now, so credit to Michael for getting involved.”
Yet some fans refuse to forgive the former No.10 for his perceived lack of loyalty to The Reds. Owen failed to agree a new contract with Liverpool towards the end of Gerard Houllier’s reign before signing for Los Blancos in a cut-price deal with just a year left on his contract. Rafael Benitez claimed he wanted to keep Owen but found the situation ‘impossible’.
“Real Madrid started talking with his agent and in the end it was an impossible situation to control,” claimed Benitez.
Owen, of course, then went onto sign for hated rivals Manchester United last summer, a move regarded as the final nail in the coffin for most LFC fans. Despite this, Owen remains one of the top ten goal scorers in Liverpool’s history, finishing as the club’s top scorer in every season up until he left.
As the saying goes, time heals old wounds and Saturday went some way to repairing the damage caused by Owen’s acrimonious departure from Anfield six years ago.