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Even 10 days after signing for Real Madrid, there is a sense that Michael Owen cannot quite believe it. “The first day was like being a little boy lost, not knowing anybody,” he said on Monday.
Even worse, when he got to the dressing room at the Bernabéu stadium and tried to squeeze in just along from Raúl and Ronaldo, he found the name of Javier Portillo the player whose shirt number he has taken still on his locker. He may find it just as hard to dislodge the present incumbents from the team.
“I'm not here to sit on the bench,” he said, speaking in Madrid at the launch of his autobiography. “I'm not expecting to walk into the side and play in every game. It will be like when I was 17 at Liverpool looking at Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. You have to have the belief you can muscle your way in. I'm never happy unless I'm succeeding and playing.” Nevertheless, that is something he may have to get used to. Raúl may look the ideal player to sit deep and slide balls through for Owen to run on to, but that position as the attacking focus at present belongs to Ronaldo, who for all the doubts over his fitness, did finish as top scorer in La Primera Liga last season.
In that sense the move represents a significant risk, but that at least is something of which Owen is aware. “When the offer came in, I saw it straight away as a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “I saw my career. I was doing well at Liverpool. I was their top scorer every season, but I maybe needed a change of scenery. I was born to be a footballer, and if you're not playing at the highest level, you could just sit there picking up your salary taking it easy.”
That truth might not easily be accepted on Merseyside, but Real Madrid do play at the highest level, and Liverpool do not. The directness with which Owen makes the point may not go down well at Anfield, but, as he says, he could hardly have done more for the cause. “I played my heart out in the first team for seven years 300-odd games,” he said. “I don't owe anything to anybody.”
He speaks of being “proud” of the decision to uproot with his young family, and, given how few English footballers have taken the step in recent years, there is something admirable about the way he has rejected the easy life to try to extend his talent. The ties to Merseyside nonetheless remain strong.
“I'd love to play Liverpool in the Champions League, to go back and see everyone,” he said. “I speak to Stevie [Gerrard] and Carra [Jamie Carragher] on the phone, and as soon as I go back to Merseyside I'll pop in to see them. I'll always be looking at Liverpool's results. I'll miss seeing the lads every day, but I'm sure playing at the Bernabéu every week will soften the blow.”
Whether he does or not, of course, will determine if the risk was worthwhile.