Taking the Mickey out of football transfers

With his glossy brochure and glass legs, Michael Owen’s move to Man Utd is the strangest deal of a mad year.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Sven to Notts County. WTF? as they say in textspeak. Hands up who saw that coming.

It’s been a summer of transfer madness. First Real Madrid went on a spending spree which makes Roman Abramovich look positively frugal. Kaka for £55million. Cristiano Ronaldo for £80million. Karim Benzema for £30million. Then Manchester City launched their own galactico drive, spunking their oil-money on ridiculously over-inflated fees. £18million for Roque Santa Cruz. £25million for Carlos Tevez. Another £25million for Emmanuel Adebayor. A reported £40million bid for John Terry. And, just when you thought the transfer market couldn’t get any more bonkers, we hear that the famous stack-heeled Swedish lothario is the new director of football at League Two strugglers Notts County. Bonkers, I tell ye.

The only voice of sanity in this sea of reckless spendthriftery has been that of Noel Gallagher. The Oasis star was bewildered by City’s transfer targets. ‘I don’t like John Terry and I never have. He’s got funny eyes and he’s a cry baby. He’s also a Cockney.’ It’s a fair assessment. £40million for a so-called hard man who blubs like an ickle baby just ain’t right. Gallagher was no more impressed with Adebayor. ‘I have always had a great dislike for Adebayor. I don’t like all that silly dancing by the corner flag.’ I couldn’t agree more. Instead of booking players for removing their shirts to celebrate a goal, referees ought to clamp down on excessive bogling and rain dancing. There’s no place in football for that sort of thing.

But it wasn’t just the silly-money signings that have been jawdropping. Michael Owen’s free transfer to Manchester United was a big shock to most people of firm mind. The majority of us, let’s be honest, had written Owen off. Busted flush, we all thought. With Newcastle relegated and Owen available on a free transfer, the big clubs weren’t exactly scrapping it out for his signature. He was linked with Wigan and Hull City, but nothing materialised. ‘Would we be interested in him? No’, said Wigan chairman Dave Whelan. ‘One, his wages are too expensive. Two, has he got the urge, bottle and drive to do what the Premier League demands?’

During the transfer window it is customary for footballers to issue what’s known in the trade as a ‘come and get me plea’ when they want a move to another club. You know the sort of thing. Carlos Kickaball says that, ever since he was a child, he’s followed English football on television and dreamed of playing in the Premiership. Over the last few years Cristiano Ronaldo issued more ‘come and get me’ pleas to Real Madrid than I’ve had hot dinners. This summer Michael Owen took the ‘come and get me’ plea to a whole new level. His advisers produced a 32-page glossy ‘come and get me’ brochure. Some bright young marketing type evidently thought it was a good idea. The rest of us thought it was as comical as it was tragic.

The brochure explains to his prospective employees — just in case they didn’t know who he was — that Michael Owen is ‘one of the most feared goalscorers in the world’ (1). We are told that: ‘Were it not for an unhappy spell at Real Madrid… and two injury-scared years at Newcastle, he would be spoken about in the same breath as Torres or Ronaldo and valued in the priceless figures that only match-winning goalscorers ever justify.’ In other words, ‘if Michael Owen wasn’t a crock and a has-been he’d still command a transfer fee, but sadly we can’t even give him away’. The brochure contains goal statistics, doctor’s reports, details of the player’s ‘sponsorship family’ and, most importantly, a summary of his ‘brand values’ (The Athlete, The Ambassador, The Icon). You couldn’t make it up – though admittedly some Arsenal fans have made up their own very amusing spoof Adebayor marketing brochure (‘Emmanuel Adebayor is a 20th century football icon. He is the most famous man in Togo and many women want to bear his children’) (2).

Was Sir Alex Ferguson seduced by Michael Owen’s marketing brochure? His interviews certainly seem to have been scripted by Owen’s PR team. ‘Michael is a world class forward with a proven goalscoring record at the highest level and that has never been in question’, said Fergie. Although many of us regard Owen’s signing as, at best, a stopgap measure and, at worst, an act of desperation, others have hailed it as an inspired move. ‘It’s a piece of genius management’, gushed former Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee. ‘Getting Michael for free on what I’m sure will essentially be a pay-as-you-play basis is very, very, good business. It’s no gamble.’ It is clear, however, that Owen was not high on Fergie’s shopping list until Real Madrid gazumped United for the services of Karim Benzema and Carlos Tevez opted to go to Manchester City.

It might not be an expensive gamble but it’s a gamble all the same. Owen is injury prone whatever his marketing people want you to believe. He no longer has the pace to terrorise defenders. More importantly, it’s by no means certain than he can adapt his game to United’s 4-3-3-system with a fluid front three interchanging positions. Owen is an old fashioned striker who prefers to play off a big target man in a 4-4-2 system. As Rory Smith in the Telegraph put it: ‘Measures taken by Kevin Keegan to convert Owen into a deep-lying forward, in the mould of Teddy Sheringham, failed. Owen is a recidivist. He cannot change.’ (3)

Will Owen score goals at United? Given the volume of chances that United tend to create he’s bound to find the net. A more pertinent question might be: ‘Is United’s strikeforce the most fearsome in Europe?’ The answer is probably not. Arguably, it’s not even the most fearsome strikeforce in Manchester.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) MICHAEL OWEN BROCHURE: The complete 32-page agents’ dossier – United boss Sir Alex obviously liked what he read, Daily Mail, 16 July 2009

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Topics Politics


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