I'M one for gut feelings and first impressions, and generally I’m happy to say these serve me pretty well.
My only regrets in life (and there are few) involve not trusting my gut feeling, but I’ll hold my hands up and say I was wrong about Michael Owen.
I’ve just left the TalkSPORT offices where I was doing a paper review. As I swung through the door, I joked with Alan Brazil and Sam Allardyce about Michael Owen’s reference to big Sam’s ‘mundane’ training methods.
Owen was on his way to the studio to talk about his new book Reboot.
“That’s going to be awkward” I jested. I couldn’t be more wrong.
The guest I’ve just been listening to for the last hour has been bold, funny, and dare I say erudite, even managing to have a giggle about it, rather than the bland individual I thought I knew.
He covered the Alan Shearer spat eloquently and didn’t shun a single question, with his parting words “I’ve nothing but respect for Alan.”
Yes I’m not naïve enough to forget he’s trying to sell his book, but it’s good to know there’s more to him than meets the eye.
Even watching him over the years on BT Sport I haven’t seen this version of him.
His ghostwriter assures me it takes a while for Michael to warm up, but I’ve met him on a number of occasions over the years and never seen this side to him.
I’m writing something of an autobiography myself and I know it can be pretty cathartic.
It helps you know who you are and feel comfortable to be yourself, perhaps this is what we are seeing with Owen, a chance to download after all these years in the public eye having to please various parties from clubs to agents to fellow colleagues and peers.
We first met at Real Madrid where I was tasked with setting up the club channel.
I was at a launch evening with him and excited to be given the opportunity to chat with such a legend, but found him awkward and shy with his eyes darting away from me frequently.
Over the years since then whenever we’ve met I’ve found it a similar story, never warming up as if meeting for the very first time over and over.
I understood from the Spanish journalists who knew him well, that he wasn’t having a great time in Spain and I automatically jumped to the conclusion that it was his ‘lack of embracing the culture’, but as he explained this morning (so elegantly) a lot of it related to the fact that it is difficult to enjoy something when your talent is on the wane.
Let’s not forget we are talking about a Ballon d’Or winner, someone who was once at the peak of his powers, and was affected so brutally with injury, over so many years.
Owen speaks of Sir Alex Ferguson’s forward to his book where he suggested a rest might have changed the trajectory of his career, but Owen contests that saying his (once) blistering pace was perhaps the biggest factor in his numerous injuries and he wouldn’t change that.
THE RIFT IS REAL
There was no elephant in the (TalkSport studio) room this morning as they got straight to those Alan Shearer quotes with Owen confirming that sadly it’s not paper talk and that the rift is very much real.
It all relates to Alan Shearer’s final game in charge of Newcastle where he hoped Owen would play against Aston Villa and save Newcastle United from relegation.
Owen confirmed he was suffering a groin injury and told the gaffer he would only start on the bench and come on if needed, which indeed transpired, sadly though it wasn’t enough to save Newcastle.
Owen was open in his assessment of the situation where he feels that one physio may have fed Shearer reason to believe Owen wasn’t as injured as he claimed he was and was thinking of his future.
TWO SIDES TELL A STORY
I see both sides to the story. I sat down with Alan Shearer last week for Malaysian Broadcaster Astro SuperSport.
I was lucky enough to get half an hour with him, something that so rarely happens.
It was a real opportunity for an in depth chat and the biggest takeway for me is what a competitive individual Shearer was and still is.
That explains why it must have hurt him so much, the suggestion that someone was not willing to put their body on the line for him and Newcastle’s cause, something he feels he’d have done himself.
I think one of the reasons it’s such a huge regret for him is that it was and is his one and only shot at management.
I always wondered if he’d get back into it but he said that he was just going to get his head down and do what he loves doing, the punditry and TV work.
I pushed a little more “what if a unique opportunity presents itself”.
“No I think that opportunity has now passed me by, going into management, so no that won’t happen.”
We may not see him in the dugout again but it’s good to see his competitiveness is still very much alive.
RECORDS ON THE LINE
I asked him about the likes of Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero closing in on his records and his answer pleased me immensely, that’s the honesty I like to see, not the ‘on message’ media trained answers we are so used to.
“I’d love to be there forever at the top of the charts, the Premier League goal scoring charts, I enjoy seeing my name there, I’m a really lucky guy, I got paid for playing football, I’d have played anyway, to see my name at the top, ahead of all those players is crazy, I’m sure it’ll be broken one day”.
He smiles and looks up often as we speak. It’s impossible not to like him.
He spoke a little about Kane and Aguero and then returned to the image of his name in lights. “I do enjoy seeing myself at the top.” Fair play I tell him, he earned it.
Once the cameras stopped rolling and the lights went out, I continued chatting with Shearer.
So often the best chats are had in these circumstances. I found him light, funny and great company, a true legend.
I do hope he and Michael are able to put their differences aside as it’s sad to see two of our greatest players at loggerheads.
As Owen sat in the chair this morning he was asked about his greatest ever striker partners, he said (perhaps surprisingly to some) that Emile Heskey had got the best out of him, but reeled off a list…the Fowlers, the Shearers, the Rooney’s.
I was glad to see he was still able to put Alan’s name among that list, a conscious decision not to omit him I’m sure. I’d like to hope one day Alan is able to do the same.
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