One of the finest strikers in English football, Michael Owen moved from Real Madrid to Newcastle United for a club record £16.8 million on August 31, 2005. It was a return to the Premier League for the former Liverpool man, but despite a rapturous reaction on Tyneside it did not turn out to be the move that reignited his career.
Michael James Owen scored 158 goals in 297 appearances for his first club Liverpool and launched himself into the global consciousness with his goal for England against Argentina in 1998. Indeed, that year saw him take his place at the top of the goalscoring charts (18) alongside the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Dwight Yorke and his hat-trick against Newcastle on August 30 - he scored three times in 15 minutes as Liverpool won 4-1 at St James's Park - confirmed him as one of the brightest young talents the English game had seen.
As a precociously talented teenager, Owen was the central figure of a Liverpool side who were bidding to reclaim the glories of yesteryear, but his career was hurt when he decided to move to Real Madrid for £8 million in 2004. It was a small figure in the context of his meteoric rise, but one shaped by the fact that his contract was close to expiring and, although the club were not keen to let their star depart, Owen made it clear that he wanted a new challenge in Spain.
Ultimately, he annoyed the Liverpool faithful by stating that he was leaving for Madrid and their concoction of Galacticos to win "big trophies", but he did not manage to establish himself among the big names at the Bernabeu and was left on the bench more often than not. In his one year in La Liga, the striker made 15 starts from 41 games, although showed he still had pedigree as he also mustered 18 goals.
By the end of the year, Owen was keen to return to the Premier League as his lack of action was not giving him a chance to impress England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Liverpool and Everton were keen, but then so were Newcastle; Madrid, meanwhile, just wanted to make a significant profit on a player they felt had not turned out as they had expected.
Later, Owen would tell FourFourTwo magazine of the rumours of him returning to Anfield: "It was real. I spoke to the chief executive Rick Parry and I was in Liverpool with Rafa Benitez and we were pretty close to agreeing things. The main issue was Real Madrid and Liverpool settling on a deal and they couldn't agree a fee - plus Newcastle were quite aggressive in their offer to Madrid. So Madrid felt that Liverpool weren't matching their valuation of me."
Ultimately it came down to a straight choice between staying in Madrid or moving to the North East. Everton boss David Moyes tried to hijack the deal at the 11th hour but neither Merseyside club were willing to offer the kind of money that Newcastle were. Eventually, a £16.8 million bid from the Magpies was accepted and his future was sorted.
Newcastle's aggressive pursuit of their man was based around their desire to reclaim their place in Europe after finishing a disappointing 14th the season before. They had started the season poorly - second from bottom after four Premier League games and the only team yet to score - so it was with some fanfare that an estimated 40,000 fans turned up at St James's Park to witness Owen signing for the club. He was joined by his daughter in a Newcastle strip and arrived on the pitch with Toon owner Freddy Shepherd and manager Graeme Souness, while Sky Sports News cheerleader Jim White was hired as MC for the day and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
The excitement on Tyneside was palpable. "He's someone who can become a legend with Newcastle United fans," Souness said somewhat hyperbolically for a man who had failed miserably with the previous big-name signings of Craig Bellamy and Patrick Kluivert. "In football, the hardest thing to get in your team is someone who puts the ball in the back of the net and Michael is the best at doing that. I can understand people who liken it to the signing of Alan Shearer. I'd say it's the biggest transfer I've been involved in as a manager of any football club."
As a mark of respect, the legendary Shearer - who had been set to retire before agreeing to stay on for one more season - even offered Owen his iconic No. 9 shirt for his first season. But Owen turned him down and revealed: "I would never have taken it off him. The gesture was unbelievable. We will see what happens at the end of season but I have been No. 10 all of my professional career. Following Shearer is not easy. I can only guarantee I will give 100%, score as many goals as I can, but help the team win as many games as possible."
With the continuation of his international ambitions still at the top of his agenda, Owen was pleased to note comments from England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, who claimed it was a boost knowing Owen would be playing regular football ahead of the World Cup.
"It is a great club. He will play regular football, much more than last season. I suppose he is very happy," the Swede said. "He will score goals for them and it is great to play with Alan Shearer. He is a good targetman and will give Michael Owen many chances, I am sure of that."
But if a more careful eye had been paid to the stats surrounding Shearer and Owen's partnership - England won just three of the 12 games they started together, losing five of the other nine - then perhaps what followed would not have been such a disaster. Injury and poor form haunted his time and the club and the move was best summed up in the words of Shepherd, who spent £1.3 million per goal and £494,000 for each appearance that Owen made.
"It was probably the worst deal I did at Newcastle. That is just being frank," he told the Sunday Sun in 2011. "We paid £16 million and we didn't get £16 million worth of value out of him. It was a nightmare from an injury perspective. And there was no added value off the pitch... the added value was nil off the pitch. I'm not having a go at the kid as he was fine when he got on the pitch. He came with great hopes, and people have subsequently said it wasn't such a good deal. But hindsight is a great management tool."
What happened next? Owen scored 30 goals in 79 games for Newcastle until he left in 2009 and went on to play for three years at Manchester United before being released on a free. Owen hit out at the boos from Newcastle fans when he arrived back at St. James's Park in the red of United in 2011 and took to Twitter to vent: "From what most of you Newcastle fans are saying you should be pleased I left the club! If I had known that earlier I could have left sooner! For the record, I tried my best in every game for Newcastle. Under KK (Kevin Keegan) I played well and I'll never forget the two [goals] I scored against Sunderland. When I meet Newcastle or Liverpool fans they all respect what I've done for their clubs. In stadiums it changes, one boo and the rest follow. By the way, im not looking for sympathy. As long as my family don't boo me when I walk through the door I couldn't care less!!!"