Poor little Michael

Posted by Marc Duffy

Ian Horrocks/Getty imagesThis is how most Newcastle United fans will remember Michael Owen's time with the Magpies.

Stoke City striker Michael Owen announced last week that he was retiring from football at the end of this season. The news prompted gushing tributes from fans of clubs he never played for and derision from some of those he did -- he received a lot of 'I thought you retired a long time ago' messages on Twitter.

You would do well to find many fans from the clubs Michael played most often for, Liverpool and Newcastle, who have anything positive to say about him. Some people are bemused by this, including, apparently, Michael himself. What has poor Michael done to be held in such little regard by so many? It's not his fault that he was prone to injury in his Newcastle days, is it?

-- Owen clarifies Twitter contract claims

I hadn't planned on mentioning Michael's retirement at all -- I have no interest in what he does once his playing days draw to a close and personally I just hope that I don't have to sit and watch him on my TV screen on Match of the Day. Sadly, it looks as if that is a distinct possibility.

It was Michael's Tweets from the weekend that brought me to my keyboard. They offer a glimpse into why I and so many others find it hard to warm to a person who was once such a great player.

The Tweets

Owen's first round came on Saturday after his appearance on BBC's 'Football Focus' prompted a lot of negativity towards him on Twitter -- especially from Newcastle United supporters. Owen obviously felt that he had to respond and so Tweeted (across five Tweets):

"Newcastle fans, following my Football Focus interview, plenty of you tweeting me saying you don't blame me for getting injured but for leaving when we got relegated. Despite the club saying they did, they didn't ever offer me a new contract despite them putting it in the press that they did. How could they when they had just been relegated? It would have been financial suicide. I've seen it a million times, a club will blatantly lie to their fans to take the moral high ground leaving the player with no leg to stand on. I've taken the stick for years which is fine but you really don't know half of it. All will be revealed one day"

To me, the real interesting points from Owen's Twitter tirade were the claims that Newcastle United "blatantly lie to their fans" and that "they didn't ever offer me a new contract"

Didn't ever?

As for his promise that "All will be revealed one day" - quite a lot was revealed the very next day when Owen once again took to Twitter:

'Just to clarify. My tweet yesterday referred to no contract offer after Newcastle relegation. Newcastle did make me an offer to extend in 2008 when Joe Kinnear was manager. Apologies to the club if there has been any confusion'

A serious amount of 'humble pie' being eaten by Owen, presumably after Newcastle United had been in touch. Either he forgot that Newcastle had offered him a new contract or he was being dishonest in an attempt to win back some support.

The damage between Owen and Newcastle fans was done long before the weekend Tweets, though -- and the reason for the intense dislike on supporters' behalf is NOT that Owen suffered injuries as some of the national press would have you believe.

The dislike built up over the four years he was at the football club.

Owen arrived on Tyneside from Real Madrid for a fee of 17 million pounds, and on a weekly wage well in excess of £100,000 per week.

In his first season at the club (2005-06) he managed only 11 games. He scored seven goals, including a hat-trick against West Ham. He broke his foot at Tottenham on New Year's Eve and missed 17 weeks. In fact, he only managed to play one more league game all season and many supporters suspected that his recovery was being timed to leave him as healthy as possible for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Supporters began to refer to him as EMO (England's Michael Owen).

As the tournament approached there were doubts surrounding his match fitness, but he was selected and he played in the warmup games and then in the tournament. The season concluded with Owen leaving the field in Cologne on a stretcher four minutes into a game against Sweden -- he might have only managed 11 games for his club, but he managed an impressive 10 appearances for his country that first season.

The terrible ACL injury he suffered restricted him to only three appearances for Newcastle the following season. He didn't score. The great news for England fans was that he did manage to make another two appearances for his country, though -- once again taking his not-quite-fit body away to play.

Two seasons into his Newcastle career, Owen managed 12 games for England but only 14 for the club who by that point had already shelled out over £27million on him.

In terms of appearances the 2007-08 season was Owen's best at the club. He played 33 games and scored 13 goals, including a double in a 2-0 win over Sunderland in the Tyne/Wear Derby. Players have been catapulted into Newcastle United folklore for less, but even this doesn't warm the Tyneside public to him.

He managed another seven England games that season, too -- and picked up yet another injury (thigh) on international duty against Austria which kept him out for six weeks.

Owen's final season at Newcastle was a disaster. He did OK by his standards in terms of appearances (28 Premier League games) but his uninspiring captaincy and lack of goals (10) weren't enough to prevent a multi-million pound Newcastle squad from being shockingly relegated.

His appearances were underwhelming, he still talked England to the press and his reluctance to sign a new contract even when the club were not languishing in the relegation zone added to the uncertainty and negativity.

He reminded me of a cruise ship captain who steers his ship into the rocks and then makes sure he is the first to safety as his ship sinks.

He confirmed what we all thought when he tweeted 'Prefer playing less often for a top team than every game in a poor team' two years after he left.

Before the season ended, Owen announced his intention to leave and before his contract expired he released a brochure aimed at finding him a new club in which he described himself as a brand, as good looking and best of all as fit and healthy! Derek Llambias estimated that Owen cost Newcastle United about £1.3million per goal.

Newcastle fans aren't alone in their lack of respect for Owen though -- Liverpool fans feel the same way but for different reasons.

Owen once Tweeted that you need to have thick skin in the world of Twitter - he certainly needed it when he decided to host a Q-and-A session on the site last year! Fans of clubs from all over England took potshots at him!

Owen, estimated to be worth over £40million, once took to Twitter complaining about having to pay 20p to use a public toilet at a train station. I paid in excess £2000 over four years to watch him turn up for fitness when England were on the horizon and then captain my club towards relegation!

No, it's not because of injuries that I don't like Michael Owen, it is for the lack of respect that he showed my football club -- a club who made him a very, very rich man.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy

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