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Owen Dilemma

So how did you feel? Annoyed, betrayed, jealous, even relieved? There will have been various opinions over the last week about Michael Owen joining the Mancs. I’ve had a mixture of the above emotions and it’s taken a few days for me to now make sense of it all.

Owen - Torres scarf

Regardless of your opinion there can be little doubt that once upon a time we all loved Owen. The FA Cup Final against Arsenal was a particular special memory and although he never gave us the Premier League as we hoped, we can hardly hold that against him. I had many a great time watching Owen terrorise defenders with his pace and prove to Glenn Hoddle that he really was a “natural goalscorer.” In the early part of the decade, Owen was one of the best strikers in the world and he was our player.

I refuse to let him or the Mancs take these memories away. Probably like most of you, I cannot begin to understand the desire to play for such a team, particularly if you have ever claimed to be a true Liverpool fan. Arsenal, Chelsea or even (due to his upbringing) Everton would have been a more understandable alternative but in many eyes he’s committed the cardinal sin. That picture with the scarf in all the papers still makes me wretch.

However, my annoyance has abated a little since I tried to analyse it a little more. Had he gone to the Mancs instead of Real Madrid in 2004 I would have despised him beyond belief. Though I disagreed with his decision, motives and common sense at the time, he left us because he thought more glory and probably money awaiting him at the Bernabeu. At the time, aged 24, the thought of him going to the Theatre of Silence would have been too much to bear and the gloating from down the East Lancs Road would have been ringing in our ears for a long time.

Look at his position now though. His team have just got relegated, he’s been dropped from the England side and the all-time top England goalscorer record that at one time looked a safe bet for him now looks very uncertain. His injuries have increased, his pace has decreased and he became a free agent in the summer with the likes of Hull and Stoke sniffing around. With all due respect to those clubs, his profile would have hardly increased enough for Capello to take much notice. He must have fallen off his racing pony in amazement when grumpy face gave him a call. Who’d have thought 2 months ago that the Mancs would still have been interested.

What he will get at Manure is profile. We all know how obsessed the media are with Whisky nose and his bunch of whinging mercenary lowlife. Whether he will get enough chances to prove himself is debatable. He may get a few games and if so will probably score a few goals. If he takes the penalties and Mike Riley is the referee, he’ll certainly get enough practice. What he won’t be is the lightning quick menace that we had at Anfield 5 years ago, and for this reason we shouldn’t feel too annoyed at the whole deal.

There’s no doubt that however much Ferguson will deny it, signing Owen does represent a certain element of desperation. Okay, he’s taken a massive pay cut and didn’t cost a transfer fee but with £80M floating around, there isn’t a chance that Owen would have got within 3 miles of their stadium if either Benzema or Villa had been snagged. To be honest I’d rather they have Owen in his present form than either of these 2 players. Add to that the bonus that he’s never clicked with Rooney with England. More of that lack of understanding will do just fine thanks.

Now Robbie Fowler or Ian Rush or Kenny Dalglish would have hung their boots up and never played football again than pull on the shirt that Owen will be wearing next season, and because of that he’s made it quite clear that he’s not so much of a Liverpool fan as he pretended to be all along. He turned his back on us once when Benitez didn’t want him to go and missed out on Istanbul and one of the best Liverpool nights of all time. Although there were various stories of him waiting for Liverpool to make the call a few days ago, we just have to accept that it might have meant a lot to him once upon a time to play for us but it was always really about Michael Owen and what he could get from his career.

Should we boo and jeer him when he returns to Anfield? Absolutely we should, just the same as we should do the same for absolutely any player that plays for that team.

Should we disregard everything he did for Liverpool? Absolutely not. He was great in his day for us but he has moved on and more importantly so have we.


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Robbie Fowler

ROBBIE FOWLER wished his old Anfield team-mate well last night, but the Liverpool hero admitted he could never have made the same decision as Michael Owen.

Owen was unveiled as Old Trafford’s new number seven yesterday.

But, speaking from Australia, where he is hoping to make a long-awaited debut for Queensland Fury tomorrow, Fowler was asked if he could ever have joined Manchester United.

“No, I don’t think so,” he declared.

With both England and Australia in Ashes frenzy, it was only fitting that Fowler should try to straight-bat questions about his former Liverpool partner’s controversial decision.

But like far too many of England’s top order, his best efforts came up short.

Fowler joined Australian side North Queensland Fury in February and after three months battling hip and groin injuries, the one-time Kop idol will get his first run-out with the A-League side in Perth tomorrow against Premier League newcomers Wolves.

But while happy to wish Owen all the best on a personal level, the man they called ‘God’ was yesterday reluctant to extend the goodwill.

“Obviously I want Michael to do well but I don’t want Manchester United to do well,” said Fowler, who used to taunt United fans by signalling Liverpool’s superior European Cup tally to their bitter rivals whenever he scored against them.

“It’s a sticky situation and I don’t want to get drawn into things with Michael and Man United. Everyone knows I’m a Liverpool fan,” he added.

“But if Michael scores a lot of goals then I hope Fernando Torres scores a lot more.”

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was once a big admirer of Fowler’s predatory instincts which saw him score more than 200 Premier League goals. But asked if he could have made a similar move to Owen, the striker said: “No, I don’t think so.

“I don’t want to go down that route as I leave myself open to criticism but Michael has done what he’s done and it’s not for me to judge what he should do or shouldn’t do. He’s a big lad.

“His record over the years has been fantastic. Again, I hope he scores a few goals but I hope they concede more.”

Fowler has been linked with another of his former team-mates, new Tranmere boss John Barnes, but he again dismissed talk of a move back to Merseyside.

“If people want to write stories that’s nothing to do with me,” he said. “The good thing is I quashed it straight away so it showed what my intentions were. Hopefully I’ve put a lot of things to bed.”

Townsville-based Fury, managed by former Rangers great Ian Ferguson, signed Fowler as their marquee player and he is one of the biggest names to join the A-League, which begins its fifth season next month.

And Fowler says is keen to make his mark.

“The last few months have been horrible,” he said.

“In terms of kicking balls I’ve not been able to do that, so hopefully there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and I’ve got something to look forward to.”

Owen, meanwhile, insists he is hungry enough to be a success at Manchester United.

“The talk doesn’t hurt you when you believe in yourself,” he said.

“I know I am hungry to do well. If this challenge does not put a spring in your step and a smile on your face, nothing will. Having a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson and a club like this coming in for you says it all.

“I still believe I can do well in a top team like Manchester United.”


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Life after Xabi Alonso: How Liverpool can fill Spaniard's void
Switch over: With Xabi Alonso bound for Real, Wesley Sneijder would be perfect replacement for Spaniard Photo: REUTERS

First, denial that he would want to leave for European football’s great circus. Then anger, at the Spanish club’s endless Marca-driven pursuit. Followed by bargaining, perhaps considering the players they may receive in exchange. That, in turn, is replaced by depression, the thought that losing their Basque heartbeat may cost Rafa Benitez’s side a shot at the title. Now, acceptance. Anfield knows Alonso wants to leave, and he has told his manager as much. It is only a matter of time.

They have come to terms with their grief. The only question that remains is how Liverpool can move on.

Benitez’s first act must be to secure the future of Javier Mascherano. The Argentinean international captain is, perhaps understandably, tempted by Barcelona, but there is a growing acceptance among his advisers that Liverpool will not part with both of their first-choice central midfielders, and it is thought Alonso’s persistence in outlining his desire to leave has made him the more likely to be sold.

Mascherano is still only 25, with at least six years of top-level football ahead of him. Liverpool would, in all probability, have to offer him a new, improved deal to persuade him to resist the lure of playing alongside his close friend Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, for the time being at least. It is not an ideal solution for a player who wishes to leave, but Benitez simply cannot countenance losing both of his central midfielders.

The greater task, though, will be replacing Alonso, Liverpool’s creative fulcrum for half a decade, adored by the Kop for his metronomic presence deep in midfield and the man who sets Liverpool’s tempo. Last season, when Alonso played badly, so did Liverpool. The worry is what happens if he does not play at all. Alternatives of his calibre are not plentiful, and, indeed, it may seem easier for Benitez to tweak his system than to attempt to plug such a gaping hole.

That could mean withdrawing Steven Gerrard into a central midfield role and bringing in an attacking midfielder – most likely Valencia’s David Silva – or a striker to slot in behind or alongside Fernando Torres, but that seems unlikely. Liverpool possess the best strike partnership in the Premier League, and breaking it up would only double Benitez’s worries.

Instead, he may seek to add an extra attacking dimension from deep. Alonso and Mascherano worked perfectly together as the former thought and the latter acted, one orchestrating, the other hunting. Their weakness, though, was goals. Alonso scored three last season – two penalties, one free kick – and Mascherano none. A goalscoring midfielder may have won Liverpool the title.

Since he will not find such a perfect foil for Mascherano – the only available option to match Alonso’s passing, crazy as it sounds, is David Beckham – he may choose to change the nature of Liverpool’s midfield, adding more cutting edge by employing Mascherano to hold and deploying Alonso’s replacement further forward.

The names mentioned so far in dispatches indicate that may be the case. Javi Martinez, of Athletic Bilbao, is a traditional box-to-box midfielder, but he remains raw. Esteban Cambiasso, of Inter Milan, would be another to add more energy to Liverpool’s play, though the best option – ruled out thus far by Benitez – would be Real Madrid’s excellent Wesley Sneijder.

The likes of Joao Moutinho, at Sporting Lisbon, and Raul Meireles, of FC Porto, would seem to fit the bill, although there is no reason to believe Benitez has considered them. Mathieu Flamini, at AC Milan, would add steel, if not creativity, to a tenacious midfield. Mark Noble is the best English option, Roma’s Alberto Aquilani and Udinese’s Gaetano D’Agostino the best Italy can offer. Marek Hamsik, at Napoli, is highly rated and plays for a club who could do with the funds.

A talented bunch, but none, of course, can match the emotional tie Liverpool fans have to Alonso. The Kop, though, will come to accept them, in time. If Benitez can produce the right replacement, stage six may yet be excitement.


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Xabi Alonso: I want to quit Liverpool FC for Real Madrid

Xabi Alonso

XABI ALONSO has told Rafa Benitez he wants to quit Anfield and sign for Real Madrid – but Liverpool will not grant his wish unless the Spanish giants come up with a fee in the region of £35m.

Alonso has stopped short of putting in an official written transfer request but he has made it clear to Benitez that his future lies in La Liga rather than the Premier League.

The 27-year-old is due to join up with his Liverpool team mates on Sunday after being given extended leave following his involvement in the Confederations Cup in South Africa but Alonso and his agent Inaki Ibanez are hopeful that a deal can be thrashed out with Real before then.

But with Real reluctant to spend more than £27m for the Spanish international and Benitez adamant that he will not allow Alonso to leave for that kind of figure, a compromise is some way off.

Alonso could try to force the issue by handing in an official transfer request but the midfielder believes that he deserves to be able to have his future sorted out without taking such formal measures after giving five years of service to the Reds. Real’s public pursuit of Alonso is now becoming incessant with recently appointed manager Manuel Pellegrini becoming the latest leading Bernabeu official to speak of his club’s desire to snap up the Liverpool man.

Pellegrini said: “He’s an important player as he has shown with the Spanish team.

“It’s no mystery that Real Madrid are interested in his services, but it will not be easy.”

Benitez is fully aware that Alonso’s desire to leave Liverpool will make it increasingly difficult to hold on to the former Real Sociedad man despite the fact that he still has three years of his Anfield contract remaining.

But the Reds boss is adamant that he will not let Alonso go on the cheap, no matter how much pressure Real put Liverpool under.

Benitez knows there are precious few midfielders around of Alonso’s quality and he is likely to have to re-shape his side if the Spanish international leaves - and that would inevitably be an expensive process.

So unless Real come up with the kind of money which would enable Benitez to go on a mini spending spree of his own, then the Liverpool manager will not budge.

Meanwhile, Nabil El Zhar has signed a new contract which will see him remain at Anfield until 2012.

The 22-year-old, who made 19 appearances for the Reds' first-team last season, follows Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun and Daniel Agger in committing his long-term future to the club.

The Moroccan international joined Liverpool from French club Saint Etienne in 2006.


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Blood Red: Xabi Alonso should pledge future to Liverpool FC cause

by Tony Barrett, Liverpool Echo
Xabi Alonso fires Liverpool in front at Hull

THERE is a theory doing the rounds that Xabi Alonso would be fully justified to leave Liverpool this summer because Rafa Benitez was willing to sell him this time last year.

As long as there is a transfer market and the principle of freedom of movement is enshrined in the EU constitution players will be free to come and go as they please, contract permitting of course.

But if Alonso does intend to swop Anfield for the Bernabeu then he can’t really use the fact that his manager considered cashing in on him after a below par season as an excuse, no matter how bitterly upsetting that situation was.

Yes, Benitez’s admission that he was willing to listen to offers for the Spanish midfielder will have fractured their relationship to the point which Alonso is no longer willing to describe it as anything more than “professional”.

And yes, Alonso is well within his rights to feel a lingering sense of harsh treatment having committed himself to Liverpool by signing a new long term contract with the club just 12 months before his manager considered flogging him to Juventus.

But since then Alonso has gone on to recapture his very best form and has just enjoyed arguably his best season in a red shirt, rivalling the superlative Steven Gerrard for the title of Liverpool’s star man during the 2008/09 campaign.

He couldn’t have done that without the backing of his manager who picked him in the vast majority of Liverpool’s games and who trusted him to continue his role as conductor of the Anfield side’s orchestra. Alonso could hardly claim to have been made an outcast.

He didn’t though. The Spaniard battled for his job and fought so well that he ended up signing a new five year contract which ties him to Liverpool until 2013 despite what had gone on before.

Alonso could walk away. He could decide that the grass is greener at the Bernabeu and that he no longer wants to play for a manager who tried to sell him.

But then again, he could let bygones be bygones, remember that it was Benitez who gave him one of the finest platforms in European football to perform on and pledge his future to Liverpool once again.

He could also consider the fact that while Benitez may not have wanted him last summer neither did his current suitors Real Madrid who showed no inclination to sign him when it was clear to everyone that Alonso was available.

There is a school of thought which suggests that Liverpool cannot afford to keep an unhappy player, a theory which also applies to Javier Mascherano.

But maybe this is one occasion when international football will actually come to Benitez’s aid because whether Alonso and Mascherano are happy or not they are going to have to play well in the coming months to make it to the World Cup on top form.

At the very least, Alonso and Mascherano owe Liverpool another year and if the Reds manage to hang on to their central midfield duo it could be the most important bit of business they do this summer.


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Liverpool FC: Premier League fixtures 2009/10

Liverpool FC: Premier League fixtures 2009/10


16 - Tottenham A 19 - Stoke H 22 - Aston Villa H 29 - Bolton A


12 - Burnley H 19 - West Ham A 26 - Hull H


4 - Chelsea A 17 - Sunderland A 25 - Man Utd H 31 - Fulham A


7 - Birmingham H 21 - Man City H 29 - Everton A


5 - Blackburn A 12 - Arsenal H 16 - Wigan H 19 - Portsmouth A 26 - Wolverhampton H 28 - Aston Villa A


9 - Tottenham H 16 - Stoke A 26 - Wolverhampton A 30 - Bolton H


6 - Everton H 9 - Arsenal A 20 - Man City A

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Liverpool: Pennant waves 'Adios' to Liverpool

Liverpool: Pennant waves 'Adios' to Liverpool
Liverpool: Pennant waves 'Adios' to Liverpool
Pennant waves 'Adios' to Liverpool Jermaine Pennant appears to be heading towards the Anfield exit door as it was revelaed today that he is close to sealing a deal with La Liga new boys Real Zaragoza. Since joining from Birmingham in a deal worth approximately £6.75 million, Pennant has struggled to find his feet in Liverpool colours and found himself spending more time warming the bench than actually playing his part in games and after a disapointing spell plying his trade under Benitez, he was shipped out on loan last season to fellow Premierleague club Portsmouth where his performances suggested he could yet have a future at Anfield. However It was never to be and upon his return, Stoke City and Hull City were linked with moves for the 26 year old aswell as Real Madrid (supposedly!). After an uncertain summer it was inevitable that he wasn't going to feature in Benitez's first team plans and it seems as though Spanish giants, Real . . . . . ZARAGOZA have clinched the signature of the englishman in a move which will hopefully resurrect his footballing career. A delighted Pennant spoke to the clubs official website about his move to La Liga: 'I wanted to come to Spain and I had offers from important teams in Europe but joined Real Zaragoza. 'I really want to get started and do well in the league.' The fee is unknown at this stage but Pennant has reportedly passed his medical in Spain and should be named as Zaragozas first signing tomorrow.




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