Michael Owen famously tried to engineer a return to Liverpool after just one year at Real Madrid.
Michael Owen has opened up on his failed move to Liverpool in the summer of 2005, insisting he “always wanted” to return to Anfield despite the wishes of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez.
Owen, who is regularly regarded as one of the best finishers of his generation, burst onto the scene with Liverpool after progressing through the club’s academy during the 1990s. Claiming back-to-back Premier League Golden Boots at the age of 20, and impressing with a fine individual display against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, he would score 158 goals for the Reds during a seven-year spell in the first team.
But in the summer of 2004 as Valencia manager Rafa Benitez was named as Gerard Houllier’s successor, Owen departed Anfield to sign for Real Madrid for a fee of £8m. And with Benitez’s side winning the Champions League in the following season, Owen wanted to return to Anfield for a second stint on Merseyside.
Although a reunion with Benitez never materialised, the England international moved to Newcastle United and endured an injury-plagued four-year spell with the Magpies before making a move to the Reds’ arch-rivals Manchester United in 2009.
It’s a move that has led to Owen becoming a loathed figure on Merseyside despite sitting ninth in the club’s goalscoring charts. However, speaking to BT Sport in an episode of What I Wore, Owen revealed that he was desperate for a return to Liverpool, the club he “loved”.
“I did a year a Real Madrid and I obviously wanted to go back to Liverpool,” said the 42-year-old recalling the sequence of events in the summer of 2005. “Graeme Souness was the (Newcastle) manager and he kept phoning me every couple of weeks while I was at Madrid and I was like, ‘I’ve only been here a month’ and the Newcastle manager is phoning and saying, ‘Whenever you can come back, come here.’
“I had great respect for Souness, so in hindsight, if I had just said, ‘Graeme I have massive respect for you but I don’t think I’ll ever come, I want to go back to Liverpool’, it might have been [different]. But because I was polite and had so much respect for him I didn’t ever want to cut him off. So I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, sounds good I’ll decide.’ I was just almost too nice.
“When it came to it, when I was leaving Real Madrid, I spoke to Liverpool and they wanted to buy me back. They put in a bid of 10m and I thought, ‘I’m there, I’m going to go home.’
The president knocks on my door, in my hotel room, before a pre-season game and says, ‘Listen we’ve had a bid from an English team. How are you feeling? We’ve loved having you here, you’re absolutely welcome to stay but if you want to go home it’s your call.’ I said, ‘I’d prefer to go back now, I’ve had a great experience but I want to go back’, thinking it was Liverpool.
He said, ‘Ok it’s Newcastle.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ I was told by Liverpool that they were going to put in a bid so I just assumed it was them. I was like ‘Oh no, no. I’ll go back to Liverpool but I’m not going anywhere else.’ He goes, ‘Well, Newcastle have bid £16m so if Liverpool do that you can go there. If not, you either stay here or go to Newcastle.’ ‘Ok, right, I’ll stay here.’ Putting on a poker face.
“I spoke to Liverpool again and said, ‘If you just go to £12m, I’ll hold my nerve and force them into a corner to either keep me or let me go.’ Liverpool said they could only go to £10m. So then I had a big decision to make, we [Real] had just signed Robinho, we already Ronaldo, Raul and Morientes. We had a World Cup coming up at the end of the year and I was thinking I need to play all the time. I spoke to Newcastle and they agreed if I did one year they would sell me to Liverpool for £12m, another year £8m, another year £4m. So every year it would be more attractive for Liverpool to buy me back.”
After eventually linking up with Souness at Newcastle, Owen’s four years in the North East were largely hindered by injuries as ligament ruptures, muscle strains and even a broken ankle limited him to just 79 appearances for the club as his career in the Premier League slowly began to peter out.
“Every time, I wanted to go back [to Liverpool],” Owen added.
“I was hopefully going to go back for £12m and I did my knee, Liverpool then bought Torres and Suarez and it just never ever happened. Every year I just tried to go back.”
“That’s not to say I didn’t have any love [for Newcastle], it’s just when you’ve got a love for a team no one can blame you for that. I mean Alan Shearer would have done the same for Newcastle. I had a great time, I’ve had lots of people say otherwise, I loved my time. Four years up there, lived up there, despite what people think, it was brilliant. But I just wanted to play for Liverpool.”