October 25, 2023
Michael Owen: I considered buying Chester FC to rival Wrexham and still might, Harry Kane made the wrong call joining Bayern and I back Xabi Alonso to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool
Speaking to DAZN Bet, England and Liverpool legend Michael Owen says Jude Bellingham has the potential to be better than Zinedine Zidane and backs Los Blancos to beat Barcelona 1-2 in Saturday’s El Clasico.
The ex-Manchester United, Newcastle United and Real Madrid striker also says he came close to joining Inter Milan in 2000, backs Zidane for Juventus and says he hasn’t spoken to Alan Shearer since the MOTM presenter criticised the release of his autobiography in 2009. Michael Owen made his Premier League debut in 1997 for Liverpool and retired at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Michael Owen’s thoughts on his old Team Real Madrid in the 2023 El Clasico
DAZN Bet: What are you predicting for the El Clasico game and who do you think will win La Liga, from the two?
Michael Owen: “I think Real Madrid will win the league although Barcelona are bouncing back and are looking good again. Madrid probably lack that centre-forward to make them the all-round great team they have been for some time now.
“Barcelona have the home advantage but it’s very tough to call. I’m going with Real Madrid though. They are my team and I hope they go on to win the league. I’ll go 2-1 to Real Madrid.
“When people ask me what is the biggest game to play in, apart from obviously World Cups, the biggest club game in the world has to be El Clasico. I played in two and have a fond memory of one, but not so much the other!
“It’s a huge game and it’s nice both teams are in good form, one point between them, so it should be a good one but I’m going for Real Madrid.”
Could Erik ten Hag be under pressure if Man Utd fail to get out of the Champions League stage?
MO: “Manchester United are in a position at the moment where they are desperate to stick with a manager. There has been so much chop and changing since Sir Alex Ferguson, and not every manager they employ can be bad. In fact, all of them had the CV to suggest they could be great managers. So at some point you have to stop chopping and changing and stick with a manager, and I think Manchester United are at that point where they really want some continuity.
“But I did expect Manchester United to be further down the line than they currently are. If you look in black and white you can argue against that, they did win a cup, got to the final of another one and qualified for the Champions League. It’s a pretty decent season, not by Manchester United’s standards but over the past few years. So that was a huge step forward on paper but visually I was not impressed and I wondered whether this was a true reflection of their ability at the time, and this season has only confirmed that in my mind.
“The one thing I say to people is that if you put Man City in front of me and changed the colours of their shirts and the faces of the players, I could watch them for about 30 seconds and say that’s Manchester City playing there. I could do the same with Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and virtually every other team, including Brighton, they just have an identity.
MO: “I watch Man Utd and I still don’t know what they are, and I’ve been watching them for a very long time. I don’t know if they are a counter-attacking team, I don’t know if they are a possession team, I don’t know if they press from the front. I don’t feel they have this identity of what other teams have got and that’s my worry, I don’t know where their destination is. I don’t know where the end game is, I don’t know what they are building, they are just a bit of everything at the moment which is a bit of a worry.”
Players and Managers
Ollie Watkins scored a very Michael Owen-esque goal against West Ham. Is he good enough for a title-challenging side like Arsenal, Man City or Liverpool? Or even Real Madrid?
MO: “I think Ollie Watkins could be one of the very best strikers in the Premier League. The way he is going at the moment, he could play for any team. Aston Villa are a good fit though because I think they are going places. A year ago I said if there are two players in the Premier League who have more ability than they are showing, it’s Ollie Watkins and Darwin Nunez.
“I thought both of them are such rough diamonds that with a bit of coaching and help they could be top class, and it’s nice now to see Watkins actually fulfilling some of that potential.
Nunez is the same. He could, for all the people who have a go at him, bite them in the backside and I’m always loathe to criticise him for missing chances because I just think one day he’ll be special if he can polish up around the edges.
“Watkins is now starting to show his true worth. There’s a massive opportunity for him. Harry Kane is still by far England’s best striker but he isn’t getting any younger, he won’t be around in five or six years so what’s behind Kane is an opportunity. Ivan Toney, Callum Wilson, players like that, it’s a huge opportunity to be England’s number one striker for years to come if anyone starts having a good time in the next year or two.”
You mentioned how Real Madrid don’t have that one obvious striker. Could Watkins fill that gap?
MO: “I don’t think Watkins is ready for Real Madrid just yet. If he keeps improving then you never know what level he can get to, but with all due respect if you’re Real Madrid you’re probably trying to capture the best striker in the world to match what you feel you are, but you certainly need one of the best three strikers in the world. If that’s the case you’re looking at the likes of Mbappe, Kane, those types. I would say Watkins is certainly not there yet.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen are currently top of the Bundesliga. When Jurgen Klopp does eventually leave Liverpool, is Alonso someone you would like to see succeed him?
MO: “Well, everyone was saying Steven Gerrard was Jurgen Klopp’s successor when he was at Rangers, so as we all know timing is everything in life. Klopp has done, and is continuing to do, the most incredible job at Liverpool over the years. Things don’t last forever and it all depends on what Klopp does.
“If Klopp decided to go in the summer, it would be about who was available then. If he decides to go in five years time then it’s a totally different picture, so it’s all about timing in life, it’s all about as and when Klopp decides he’s had enough.
“It will be about who is doing well at the time. Of course Alonso has links with the club, the fans love him, so he would be someone the club would consider if he was still doing well.
“But there could be other people cropping up in the meantime, anything could happen.
But it all depends on what Klopp decides to go, and looking at the team he’s got right now I don’t think that will be any time soon.”
Harry Kane looked very fresh for England against Italy. What do you make of his start to life at Bayern, and looking back on his decision to join?
MO: “Harry Kane is an unbelievable player and it shouldn’t be a surprise he’s still playing well, that’s just a given. He’s such a wonderful talent.
“But I don’t agree with his move from Spurs to Bayern, as I said at the time which made front page news in Germany. He should have stayed at Spurs for another year. If he was so desperate to leave and to win trophies, then he could easily have then had the world in his hands by going on a Bosman transfer at the end of the season.
“If Spurs miraculously started playing well and looking like title challengers, he could have always stayed, but regardless he would have had his destiny in his hands and gone to any club he wanted to all while he was getting closer to that Premier League goalscoring record and creating the perfect legacy with the club he’s been at all his life.
“Bayern are undoubtedly one of the biggest clubs in the world but for me to win a trophy, I don’t think there’s anything really special about going and guaranteeing yourself a Bundesliga trophy. Bayern will win the league with or without Kane, so I don’t think that was particularly a reason to leave.
“The only thing is that he gets to play in the Champions League, to have a chance of winning but in my book Manchester City will win it and if it’s not them then other teams have a chance too, Bayern being one of them, but City are the standout.
“I said at the time I didn’t think it was the right thing and I still stick by that. But if he goes and wins the Treble at Bayern, you can say I was wrong, but if he only wins the Bundesliga, then I would feel as strongly as I do now that it wasn’t the right move.”
Do you feel Ange Postecoglou’s start strengthens your argument that Kane made the wrong move?
MO: “I try to put Tottenham’s start to the side, but as it happened I thought Postecoglou would be a great fit for Spurs. But I don’t think that’s that relevant when discussing what Kane should have done because I think everyone accepts it would be lovely for him to win trophies, to showcase himself in a team that had a great chance of winning things.
“I don’t think even Spurs fans would be blinkered enough to deny him that opportunity, but I just think for him, if I’m being bloody-minded about you as a player and what you want, then I think doing another year at Spurs and then being available for nothing at the end of the year would have been the best move and I don’t think Spurs would have complained.
“He didn’t cost them anything and you have the most incredible service so there’s no complaints there, you then financially are sorted because you will be going for nothing, so someone is going to be paying you very well anyway. Then you pretty much have your pick of the Manchester City’s or the Manchester Uniteds. City don’t currently need a centre-forward but a lot changes over a year and having the world in your hands as opposed to jumping ship with one year to go was the best move.
“Personally I think he’s craved to have decisions in his hands for around three or four years now, he probably wishes he didn’t sign a long-term contract and then he could have been more in control of all of his career.
“All of a sudden with one year to go, after doing the hard yards, now you’re about to pick Barcelona, Real Madrid or whoever you want, and I almost felt he buckled at the last moment.”
Your ex-teammate Zinedine Zidane has been linked with a return to management, with Juventus among the clubs mentioned. Would that be a good fit there?
MO: “Zidane has done an incredible job in management. When I was a player at Real Madrid in the dressing room, he didn’t really jump out as one I thought would definitely go into management. Zidane was quiet, studious yes, but quiet although he didn’t speak any English which was one of the reasons I thought he didn’t talk that much to me!
“I didn’t have him down as 100% going into management. But he did and he has had incredible success, but he also seemed the type of person who liked his family time as well and doesn’t mind being out of work. Some people are addicted to being in work all the time, whereas he seemed okay when he was at a great club, he could chill out and enjoy his life.
“Football doesn’t change from Italy to Spain to other countries, so of course he could do a good job no matter where he went, including Juventus.”
How much of a mistake was it for Liverpool not to sign Bellingham?
MO: “I think Liverpool did want Bellingham, but I think sadly for Liverpool everything was at its lowest ebb at the time. They had been doing well in Europe and the league but it seemed they had one lull of the season whereby they had not qualified for the Champions League and of course that’s huge for anyone coming to the club.
“So for one they were not getting the finances and two it was not an exciting proposition because that player would not be playing in that Champions League, and of course they had been languishing in the league. So all of a sudden it did not look like the proposition it did a year ago.
“I’m pretty sure Bellingham’s eyes were looking towards Liverpool at one point, and it would have been an amazing signing. But of course there is a big investment in it, and when Real Madrid come calling, there is obviously a lot of competition there. I’m sure Liverpool would have done plenty to get him but it wasn’t to be.”
Do you think Bellingham could be as good as, if not better, than Zidane?
MO: “Bellingham has potential to be as good as, if not better, than Zidane. He’s an exceptional player already and I have gone on record saying all kind of lovely things about him, but it’s another thing comparing him with other great players when he has literally just from the outset of his career and won very little.
“But he’s obviously exciting and promising, he has a great attitude and I can’t see where he can trip up in life really because of his mentality. He has the potential to be up there with the greats but it really is potential, he has won very little so far. So we’re all talking about potential.
“So to put him up there with the greatest player I have played with, Zidane, I don’t think I can yet. If you put him up there with Zidane then you put him up there with the other greats, the all-timers, top-10 ever. These people have won multiple Ballon d’Ors, World Cups and everything but he certainly has a lot of potential.”
Would Michael Owen Buy Chester FC?
Do you have any ambitions to buy a football club like David Beckham did with Inter Miami, or Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney did with Wrexham FC?
MO: “Good question. I did consider buying a football club a while ago, I had a good think about it. Chester FC are my local team, it’s where I was born and where I live. And of course you see Chester who, in my eyes, are big rivals with Wrexham FC in a nip and tuck situation. I live around 15 miles from Wrexham and there is an incredible buzz around the local area, and you can’t help but look over the fence and say I wish Chester had this buzz.
“I have looked at the potential in the past. Chester FC is a fan-run club now, so I don’t know what challenges that would pose, but it was a thing that I looked at a couple of years ago and I haven’t re-looked at it since.
“But of course you’re burning money, really, at that level a lot of the time. I haven’t got the money to be losing a million every year which probably is what these clubs do. So obviously I’d need help. But anyway it’s something I did look at with a few people a few years ago but is not something I haven’t looked at since.”
Is buying Chester FC, or a club like it, something you may revisit in future with the right backing?
MO: “I would only consider buying a club if the right opportunity came along. Football is what I know, it’s my passion. I have built my life now to the extent that, really, I don’t need anything more in it. If anything I wish I had a few more days off. If something like that came, something else would have to go.
“But really I like doing the TV work, I am certainly not going to give up my horse racing business and obviously I have four kids and I want to enjoy my life. At the moment I love doing my TV work, but you never know what will happen in the future.”
Michael Owen’s Football Career
Did you ever come close to joining a Serie A team?
MO: “I came close to joining Inter Milan around the turn of the century, they came in for me. But I was happy at Liverpool at the time and didn’t take talks any further. My agent made me aware of the interest and said that they had enquired about getting me.
“That was when Italian football was the biggest in the world and then Spain took over, and since then the Premier League has taken over now.”
You are the last Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or. The most likely English players to win it next are Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham. Do you think either of them will and, if so, what do they need to do?
MO: “It’s a simple process with the Ballon d’Or. You need to be in a successful team, and you need to be the star player in that team. Kane and Bellingham are in successful teams now, both have the opportunity to win their domestic leagues and then have the opportunity to win the Champions League as well.
“If they do that, and have a good international season as well and are the star men, then you put yourself in with a chance of winning it. I look back to the year I won it, we won trophies in that individual year, and I was the top goal scorer in that team. I believe it was 28 goals. Then we had a really successful international time too, qualifying for the World Cup where I scored my hat-trick in Germany, creating a histroric win.
“That whole season really fell into place for me and we were a successful team, winning a European competition. If you’re not in a Euros or a World Cup year then obviously the Champions League probably takes more of a pecking order.
“It’s just a simple combination of being the star man in a star team. And both Kane and Bellingham have the ingredients to do it.”
Have you spoken to Alan Shearer since he criticised your book and questioned your professionalism?
MO: “I haven’t spoken to Alan Shearer since he criticised my book, no. Alan works at the BBC and I work on other channels, so we rarely cross paths. I would say hello and shake his hand, things like that, but no we haven’t spoken since then.”