A sideways look at Spanish football
From a Spanish viewpoint, it appears that the news of Michael Owen’s impending retirement has been met with either ambivalence or hostility from Premier League fans – especially at Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke, whose clubs he represented. But among Real Madrid supporters, there is a deep well of respect for a man who made 19 La Liga starts but still managed to score 13 goals.
Owen’s announcement made the Spanish sports pages as something of an aside. The then 24-year-old's single-season Santiago Bernabéu spell in 2004/05 was always an odd one.
There's a lot a confusion as to what the Englishman was doing in the Spanish capital in the first place, with Ronaldo and Raúl already hogging the prime roles in the Real Madrid forward line and almost impossible to displace. Then again, there’s a lack of understanding of why Owen decided to pack his bags just 383 days into a four-season deal, giving up on Real Madrid and moving to Newcastle.
Owen was always going to be the third choice up front, what with Ronaldo being the apple of Florentino Perez’s eye and Raúl being apple of his own eye as well as club captain and firm fan favourite, but the Englishman still delivered consistently for the team, whether from the start or by coming off the bench. “So many people thought he was very good, did his job very well and scored so many goals,” recalls Marca writer Rodrigo Marciel. “No one here has a bad word to say against him.”
On the other side of the fence: Owen and friends
But Owen didn't only struggle to make himself at home on the pitch: he also looked uncomfortable in the all-important area of relationships with the fans and media. Already in the footballing shadow of Raúl and Ronaldo, he also battled with comparisons to compatriot Steve McManaman off the field. To this day, the retired midfielder is adored by Real Madrid fans not only for what he achieved as a player, but also his spirit, good humour, adaptability to local customs, language skills and for never once complaining when on the bench or out of favour. “McManaman is a legend at Real Madrid,” says Rodrigo Marciel.
Through no fault of his own, Michael Owen was a very different personality to his former Liverpool team-mate – or even David Beckham, another Englishman still adored at the Santiago Bernabéu. The forward appeared shy, introverted and struggled to settle in the Spanish capital because “he missed his English life, that’s the key,” says Marciel.
This meant that there was no emotional connection between Owen and the Real Madrid supporters, something that may have helped the footballer adapt more successfully to his surroundings and perhaps have led to a longer spell in the Spanish capital. In a parallel universe there is a Michael Owen who spent three more years at Madrid, scoring 100 goals for the club.
However, a swift return to England was the future for Owen, whose one season spell in Spain was marked by undoubted success and unfulfilled potential. Despite this, Real Madrid’s home is one stadium where the retiring striker would receive a warm and respectful welcome, if tinged with regret of what might have been.
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