An interesting one this… no, bear with me.
Michael Owen had been Livepool’s top goalscorer in every season since his debut in 1997-98, when he came on as a sub against
Wimbledon and scared the living shit out of me and all fellow Dons present. People now see him warming the bench for Manchester United, and perhaps it’s fair enough to criticise him when he’s been quoted (On twitter) saying “Just to answer some of your tweets. Prefer playing less often in a top team than every game in a poor team. Been there a didn’t enjoy it” – great way to put noses out of joint – but come one, in the late nineties and early noughties HE WAS INCREDIBLE.
Fragile, yes; one dimensional, perhaps; but incredible nevertheless. Perhaps because his play was a little predictable, it was even more impressive. Sort of like a Sampras serve, you know it’s coming, but there’s sod all you could do about it. You knew Owen would be lurking, nay preying, on the fringes of off-side, waiting to pounce on a ball into space or over the top. You knew he would be onto it like a hound after a hare and he’s tuck it away with aplomb. He was the best in the business at what he did. Don’t believe it? Two League Golden Boots and a Balon d’Or back me up – what you got? He even had a Cup Final named after him (Yes, that’s the Michael Owen Final)
The fact is that Michael Owen was outgrowing Liverpool, and they both knew it. The writing was on the wall when he was left on the bench for Champions League games in August 2004, but he’d been linked away from the club for a number or years. Liverpool decided to avoid another Macca situation and let him go for what seemed like a cut-price deal. Roughly £11 million, plus some chap called Nunez.
Detractors of Rafa Benitez’s reign at Liverpool point out the numerous signings of second rate Spaniards as one of the more woeful legacies of the man. Yes, there were good signings, but for every Fernando Torres there was an Albert Riera, for every Sergio Garcia there was a Fernando Morientes. Nunez falls into the latter category I’m afraid. But it wasn’t all complete tosh from the young Spaniard. He holds two distinctions on Merseyside. He’s the only player ever to score his first goal for the club in a major final, and he’s also the unofficial “Most underserved Champions League winners medal” winner. In my book anyway – actually half of that Liverpool 2005 team were gash weren’t they?
The two players acknowledged each other through the windows of the planes as the traded places, Nunez with a deferential nod to the world superstar that was to play for the club of his boyhood dreams, Owen with a wink and a cutting smile at the lad who had been sacrificed from the Real Madrid squad to make way for him. Given that Michael Owen is a betting man, I wonder if he ever considers what the odds might have been on Nunez picking up a Champions League medal the very next year, and not him?
Both stuttered to begin their careers in their new countries. Nunez was injured on his first day of training, whilst Owen got some practice in for his Manchester United spell, sitting on the bench plucking splinters out of his arse. To be fair, Owen found his form, and ended the season with the best goals per minute ratio of any player in the league. Impressive. 18 goals in his only season for Los Merengues, and they even turned a tidy profit on his as they sold him to Newcastle the next summer. Owen left spain with his reputation, but with no medals. Nunez on the other hand, also hit the figure 18, but in total appearances, not goals. His only goal was the consolation goal in the League Cup final of 2005. An unused sub in Istanbul, he picked up a winners medal alongside other such luminaries as Steve Finnan and Djimi Traore. Nunez was also sold back to a club in his homeland after only one season abroad, to Celta de Vigo, for whom he played 96 times in the next three years.
Owen is still looking for his Champions League medal, having left Anfield in search of one, only for them to win it the very next year.