Owen’s "wound will never go" after Liverpool fans placed "dagger in the heart"

"Where we you, where were you, where were you in Istanbul?"

The chanting was relentless, as arms were outstretched and fingers pointed toward the Anfield turf. It was Boxing Day 2005, but the mood wasn't very festive.

Liverpool, in fine form, were seeing off Newcastle United 2-0 thanks to first half goals from Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch, but with the game all but secured by the break a sideshow took over in the second period.

When Michael Owen, back at Anfield for the first time since leaving Liverpool some 18 months previously, looked up towards the Kop he could see an array of tin foil and cardboard European Cups, each one there to remind him of what he'd just missed out on.

Then as the game meandered to a conclusion another cutting chant came out. "You should have signed for a big club." If only they knew.

The details of Owen's 2005 move to Newcastle, and not back to Liverpool, have been pored over many times before.

Owen himself isn't shy about admitting that he had been desperate to return to Anfield back then, just a year after leaving for Real Madrid. Just as he thought it could be happening, in came the Magpies with an offer Real couldn't refuse and Liverpool couldn't match.

A rather curious relationship between the forward and his former fans took hold, but while Owen was at Newcastle and struggling with injuries things could always be kept at a distance.

Until they couldn't any more.

Again, Owen is on record in several places talking about his 2009 decision to join Manchester United on a free transfer.

Approaching 30 and with injuries catching up with him it was, he says, down to a straight choice between Sir Alex Ferguson's reigning champions, Everton or relegation-threatened Hull City. No amount of attempts to get back to Liverpool, often through his good friend Jamie Carragher, were going to work.

Rafael Benitez's Reds had just finished second to United, and although the attempt to crowbar Robbie Keane into the team hadn't worked, in attacking roles they had Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel, as well as a huge amount of faith in David Ngog. Gerrard was often played as a No.10.

“If you’re going to say no to Manchester United, you might as well just retire," Owen told Off The Ball back in 2018.

“I did all I could and I can’t do any more. Circumstances just meant that I couldn’t ever go back [to Liverpool]."

But he could go back. In a Manchester United shirt.

It was October 2009 and Liverpool were in the midst of an horrendous run, losing their previous four matches – a sorry tale that included fatal back-to-back Champions League defeats to Fiorentina and Lyon and a beach ball scoring a goal at Sunderland.

United, imperious and champions, arrived at Anfield on top of the league after seven wins from nine games, a run which had included Owen's unforgettable late winner in his first Manchester derby.

He had known what was coming though.

"Now that I'm playing for their local rivals – I'm not holding my breath, put it that way," he had told The Guardian.

"I've got to earn a living, provide for my family. I supported Everton as a kid. I never supported Real Madrid, but I played for them. It's a job opportunity, just like anyone else's work."

Owen's opportunity would arrive as a 74th minute substitute for Dimitar Berbatov, as Ferguson turned to his bench in a bid to get back into the game nine minutes after Torres had outwitted Rio Ferdinand to take the roof off the Kop end.

The former Liverpool forward was in the action quickly, as a burst into the Anfield Road end penalty area – which United fans had briefly strewn with balloons and beach balls after what had happened in the north east a week previously – was halted as he was hauled back by his mate Carragher.

Penalty? Perhaps it could have been, but no.

Owen and Wayne Rooney pleaded with referee Andre Marriner, but the howls of derision from the home fans was all they got in return. That and Carragher angrily gesturing towards a friend he'd shared so many dressing rooms with, but who was now an enemy.

In a frantic finale there were red cards for first Nemanja Vidic and then Javier Mascherano, but Lucas Leiva released the 20-year-old Ngog to calmly roll home the second goal in stoppage time, with Pepe Reina sprinting the length of the pitch to celebrate with him.

Briefly the focus had turned away from Owen, although that was no consolation.

"When I go back to Anfield and one or two people booed me, it was like a dagger in my heart for what I did for the club and how I felt about it. And how I still feel," Owen told that Off The Ball interview in 2018, seriously understating the feeling that day.

Speaking to Carragher on his old teammate's Greatest Game podcast last year he says the wounds are still there.

“It has been painful going back to Anfield. Crying in the players' lounge and hoping nobody sees. It has been torture for a long time," he said.

“It is like splitting up with your wife. I can only blame myself, I said yes to Real Madrid. I still love Liverpool. Different to [Carragher], you are still at that club being idolised. I was you.

“And yet there is a polarised opinion because of me thinking I will go away for a year and all of a sudden it is all ruined.

“If I am walking along the Kop, they’re saying ‘you Manc’ or whatever and I have got to live with that. It has killed me for ages and the wound will never go.”

In this rivalry, every decision can have lasting consequences.

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