Michael Owen signs
Owen's column in the Times, 31st August 2005
IT WAS at 1.30 in the early hours of yesterday that I finally decided that I was joining Newcastle United. That decision concluded a head-spinning 24 hours when, from one moment to the next, I thought I might be returning to Liverpool or staying at Real Madrid.
Although there had been a lot of agonising, and a lot of telephone calls, it was an easy decision in the end. People will point out that, only a week or so ago, I listed Newcastle as the last of my options but circumstances change very quickly, as I have discovered.
Given that I will be running out to play football in front of more than 50,000 of the country’s most passionate supporters next week, I am not about to cast around for sympathy.
It was a very long day on Monday but, as I went through the same circle of late-night calls with the three clubs involved in my dilemma, I felt that to return to Madrid would be the wrong decision. I want to play regularly and, if I am honest, part of me had missed the passion of the Premiership.
I was uncertain that a Liverpool bid would be accepted in time and I wanted to play for a club who really wanted me. My mind was made up, particularly when I thought back to the excellent meeting I had enjoyed with the Newcastle directors, management and Alan Shearer.
Alan was a great help throughout and instrumental in my decision. I had spoken to him many times over the past few weeks and he should work for the Newcastle tourist board when he finishes playing football. He even offered to give up his No 9 shirt but I have declined. No 10 will do for me.
I will regard playing alongside him in his last season as an honour. He has been, and still is, a great striker and there is no way that Newcastle should be where they are in the table with that calibre of player.
Alan said how his mind was in turmoil at the time he left Blackburn Rovers and suddenly a clear decision emerged. It was much the same for me after a day that had begun at dawn. I flew by private plane into Liverpool airport and went straight into a meeting with Rick Parry, the chief executive, and Rafael Benítez at a friend’s house in Liverpool.
Rafa and I sat together in the lounge while my adviser discussed my playing contract with Rick in the dining room. We were together for about2½ hours and I would say that it was a good meeting — the most positive I had heard out of Liverpool — and we spoke to Rafa and Rick again on the journey up to Newcastle.
We met the large Newcastle contingent at a grand country house, although I didn’t know there were cameras in the bushes. The meeting went on for almost three hours and what was said made a very strong impression on me.
On the journey home from those talks, my mind was still spinning. Would Liverpool’s offer be in time and accepted? What would happen to me if I stayed at Madrid? How much would I miss European football if I signed for Newcastle?
Then, just before I arrived home, David Moyes rang to see if there was a chance of getting me to Goodison Park and to wish me luck if not. I think he must have known that my Dad was briefly an Everton player and I used to follow them as a boy.
I arrived home at around 9.30pm and sat in the kitchen with my Mum, Dad and wife, Louise. With growing doubts about the Liverpool deal, my mind was made up. It will be strange going back to Anfield with another club but I won’t be the first player to do that and, as Jamie Carragher told me yesterday, he is already looking forward to giving me a kick.
All the Newcastle fans need to know is that I will be giving everything for their cause now. I have been watching the television and seen the queues at the club shop. From what I can tell, 99 per cent of fans are delighted that I have chosen Newcastle and are not wondering about how I got there. It will be like winning the World Cup to win a trophy.
I have got a lot of good memories of scoring goals at St James’ Park, including a hat-trick on my first visit with Liverpool. I was clapped off by the home fans that afternoon and I only hope that I can give them plenty more reasons to cheer me.