Michael Owen appeared to be
on the brink of leaving Liverpool for Real Madrid.
The striker, who was left out of Liverpool's Champions League qualifier
against Austria's Grazer AK, was widely reported to be ready to quit the
club with which he has been associated since the age of 11.
Talks aimed at thrashing out a deal to take the 24-year-old to the
Bernebeu began earlier this week and Liverpool's willingness to sell
their star striker was underlined when Owen was not used in the club's
2-0 win over Austrian club Grazer AK in a Champions League qualifier.
Owen has one year left on his current contract at Anfield and has
repeatedly stalled on signing a new deal, leaving the club with little
option but to sell him now or risk him walking out for nothing next
Any deal is expected to involve a payment from Real in the region of 10
million pounds with Fernando Morientes possibly moving in the opposite
direction as a makeweight.
By keeping Owen on the bench on Tuesday, Liverpool protected Owen's
transfer value, guaranteeing that he would still be eligible to play for
another club later in the competition.
The refusal of Liverpool's new manager Rafael Benitez to clarify the
situation after the match was also telling.
"On the question of whether Madrid have made an official approach, I
don't want to say anything at this time," Benitez said.
"I am sorry but that is it. I understand that you talk about Michael but
as I have said before I don't know the future. At this moment he is with
us and one of our four forwards, that is all."
Although Benitez would never admit it publicly, Liverpool's willingness
to sell Owen may have been influenced as much by footballing as
The arrival of 14-million-pound striker Djibril Cisse and the form
displayed by Milan Baros at Euro 2004 suggests Liverpool would not
necessarily suffer overly from the loss of their star striker.
Owen's record of just over one goal every two games stands comparison
with any of his rivals. But, increasingly in recent seasons, the England
striker's best form has come only in erratic bursts.
Injuries have taken the edge off the pace he enjoyed as a teenager and
he has never forged a sustained, successful partnership with any other
striker at Liverpool.
At 24, Owen himself may also feel that he is in need of a fresh
challenge and will realise that the opportunity to join England
team-mate David Beckham and the rest of Real Galacticos may not come
For Benitez however there is no doubt that selling Owen would constitute
a major gamble just two months after his move from Valencia to replace
Gerard Houllier in the Anfield hotseat.
Already there is disquiet on Merseyside that the club's traditional
identity with the local community is being eroded by the Spaniard
following his decision to offload Liverpool-born Danny Murphy to
If Owen follows Murphy out, it will leave just two local boys -- Steven
Gerrard and Jamie Carragher -- in Benitez's first team.
That will matter little if Cisse and Baros strike up an effective
partnership and the fans begin to see signs that their team are capable
of mounting a sustained challenge to Arsenal, Manchester United and
If that does not happen, it will not take long for Benitez to feel the
full force of the backlash.