David Preece: Why I understand Michael Owen's comments over his Newcastle United spell
Quiet times call for big mouths and international breaks are generally quieter times.
With there being less football during these weeks, news comes from elsewhere and this week it came in the form of public spats between ex-footballers. And what makes it even better is when not isn’t you that’s involved. You can just sit back, pop open the popcorn and watch it all unfold like an episode of Eastenders where Kat Slater and Sharon Mitchell are trying to scratch each others eyes out. The only differences being footballers tend to be more bitchy and carry more expensive handbags around than fictional characters of east end London.
First up it was Roy “Do me a favour” Keane and Jon “I’m not scared of Roy Keane” Walters and although Keane is box office, he had to settle for a spot on the undercard with a player he coached both with Ipswich Town and Ireland. In all honesty, it was a mis-match. Yes there was the odd low blow from Keane, allowing the jibes become personal but nobody could have watched his interview with the fellas at Off The Ball over in Dublin.
Luckily I was back in the UK doing my own version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles which gave me the chance to watch the full two hour of Keane’s evisceration of everything that fell under his focus and as entertainment value goes, I couldn’t believe I was able to watch it for free. As he jumped from plain fact to playing his own caricature, sprinkling his performance with occasional bouts of searing incandescence, this should have been pay per view. This was entertainment.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking I should be paying to watch this as Gary Neville sat alongside Keane probably pondering whether he should have bought a ticket as well, such was his input. He did make an attempt at a small scuffle with presenter Joe Malloy but you don’t pick fights with nice guys and Joe always comes across as a nice guy.
There are two sides to every bitter anecdote but if they’re told in an amusingly caustic way than I’m sucked right in. Let’s face it, nobody turns up to these events or download’s a podcast to listen to bland platitudes. Of course some it is more than hammed up more than a bacon, and the low blows might have be directed well below the belt but there was only ever been one winner. Without Keane, Walters’ stories lose their cache which is why I make it a mismatch.
Next up was a contest that overshadowed the other by a sheer contrast in the enormity of the battle. Shearer v Owen might have been a competition in the goals coring stakes at one point but old wounds have been opened and vinegar poured in via Twitter.
Owen has a book to publicise, with the big talking point this week being his time at St James’. A time no-one looks upon with much affection, least of all, Alan Shearer.
It’s a subject I spoke to Owen about when I interviewed him for Mundial last year and to be frank, it was a conversation that totally changed my opinion about him. Okay, it’s a one hour chat but I’m terrible for making judgements of people just from their public personas when actually, I should know better than anyone that what the person you see on a football pitch or a TV screen is very rarely the person at all.
He spoke about his time at Newcastle with a real intensity and with regret. It’s easy to see his words in black and white and take them without the tone they’re spoken with, but his time at Newcastle was an amalgamation of his body breaking down and his own frustrations at not being able to perform at the levels he had set because of that.
We spoke about that last game of the season against Villa which is at the crux of Alan Shearer’s grudge and the barrage of criticism that came with it, seems as if it was something that had festered in the years since. Once when it could be shrugged off, could no longer be and he was very keen to put a few things straight.
Owen was clinical, not only in his game but in personality too which can make him difficult to take to. For someone whose career suffered because of the injuries that permeated it, I found tragedy in speaking to Michael. Waining powers can be difficult to deal with psychologically and as Michael told me, he wishes he retired halfway through his career so everyone, including himself, could forget the rest.
I know I tend to play devil’s advocate and look at arguments from the less popular side, but imagine if Michael had started that game and took the risk for Shearer. As a manager, would you want to be relying on a player who fears running at full pace in case he breaks down? Would you want to go into a potentially historic game with what essentially amounts to ten and a half men? It’s a huge gamble. Now imagine he broke down after 10 minutes and you’re already switching things around in to Plan B before the game has barely begun. I wouldn’t want that. I’d rather take what I could of Owen in the last 10 and put my faith in others who were 100%.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and I can understand Shearer wanting Owen to start too. We go through this on a weekly basis here, discussing who we can and can’t play, and how much we might be able to get out of others. That’s football.
The real moral of the story here is that among the four combatants involved, nobody comes out the winner in arguments aired in the public. Even if it’s for publicity that raises your profile or sells a few more books, when you look back at them from the future, you have to question whether it was all worth it at all.