Michael Owen: Why I signed for Manchester United and Newcastle, not Rafa Benitez

BT Sport pundit tells FourFourTwo just how close he came to linking up with Rafa again at Liverpool

Two of Michael Owen’s old clubs meet on Saturday, but the former England star admits he wouldn’t have signed for either Newcastle or Manchester United if he’d been able to rejoin Rafa Benitez at Liverpool.

Benitez takes Newcastle to Old Trafford on Saturday evening, and it was during the Spaniard’s time as Liverpool boss that Owen made two attempts to link up again with the Champions League winner. 

The ex-striker signed for Real Madrid two months after Benitez’s arrival as Liverpool manager in the summer of 2004, missing out on the Reds’ Champions League triumph in Istanbul later that season.  

Michael Owen Real Madrid

Just a season at the Bernabeu for Owen

He spent only a year in La Liga before returning to the Premier League, joining Newcastle for £16.8m, but his first choice was to return to work with Benitez at the club where he made his name.

“When I was leaving Real Madrid, I met Rafa in Liverpool in one of the player's houses to keep it all under wraps,” BT Sport pundit Owen tells FourFourTwo now. “We had a great meeting, we sorted everything out from my point of view, then my agent sorted everything out with Rick Parry in the room next door.

“Everything was sorted for me to go back there, but unfortunately the clubs couldn’t agree a fee. Newcastle then put in a bid which far outweighed Liverpool’s and basically Real Madrid made an ultimatum saying unless Liverpool matched Newcastle’s bid, you’re not going there. So I had no option really in the end, and I couldn’t join Rafa.”

No room at Anfield

Every time I seemed to leave a club, Liverpool were very well off for strikers at the time. Even after that I spoke to Brendan Rodgers, but they had Luis Suarez there

Owen spent four injury-hit years at Newcastle before joining Manchester United on a Bosman free transfer in the summer of 2009. His move to Old Trafford upset many Liverpool fans but, again, his first choice was to return to Anfield under Benitez – and he even asked Jamie Carragher to put a word in for him.

“I did that every single time I left any club!” Owen laughs. “I spoke to Rafa Benitez but they had Fernando Torres there – every time I seemed to leave a club, Liverpool were very well off for strikers at the time. Even after that I spoke to Brendan Rodgers [when he left Manchester United for Stoke in 2012], but they had Luis Suarez there.

“I tried to rejoin Liverpool at every opportunity whenever I left a club but that wasn’t to be, so at that point you’ve got to further your career and do what’s best for you. That’s when I signed for a variety of different clubs.”

Michael Owen Newcastle

Owen's switch to Newcastle turned out badly for all parties

Benitez will be facing Manchester United for the first time since taking over as Newcastle manager in March 2016, renewing a rivalry with the Red Devils that goes back to his days with Liverpool and Chelsea. 

The Spaniard secured two wins and a draw over United during his brief spell with Chelsea, triumphing 1-0 at Old Trafford in the Premier League, and secured a 4-1 victory at the same stadium towards the end of his time with Liverpool – even if that season was overshadowed by his infamous ‘facts’ rant against Sir Alex Ferguson.

Owen believes Benitez’s tactical acumen is the main reason why he’s had success at Old Trafford in the past.

“He’s widely regarded as one of the best tacticians in the world,” the 37-year-old says. “He’s got lots of pros and cons as a coach – the only negative you’d say is that he isn’t the manager to put his arm around you and tell you you’re doing great. He’s quite standoffish, cold and matter of fact – but his tactical awareness and the way he sets out his teams is right up there with the best.

Rafa cracking up

Manchester United fans enjoy a Rafa return to Old Trafford

“He will have his plan to go to Old Trafford. I’m sure it will be a reasonably tight game, Newcastle don’t concede too many goals, but of course the edge in quality lies with Manchester United.

“Whenever anybody goes to Old Trafford you’ve got to weigh up what you’ve got and what you’re facing. Rafa will go there thinking, ‘We can’t just have a match-up because they’ve got better players than us’. Tactically he’s got to do something a little bit different to stem the flow.” 

Watch Manchester United vs Newcastle United on BT Sport 1 on Saturday from 5pm. BT Sport is where the best go head-to-head in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and Emirates FA Cup. For more info visit btsport.com

Michael Owen BT Sport