Michael Owen Exclusive

Michael Owen Exclusive

Retired England, Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid star Michael Owen believes Liverpool fans will be extremely nervous about life after Jurgen Klopp, following the struggles of the Red Devils following the loss of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Owen insists Gareth Southgate should play in-form forwards Phil Foden and Cole Palmer together as he discussed the Three Lions’ hopes ahead of Euro 2024.

He also believes England captain Harry Kane made the wrong move to join Bayern Munich - even if they win the Champions League.

  • Arne Slot will be a comedown from Klopp
  • I fear Liverpool’s era of greatness is over
  • England must drop Saka and play Palmer instead at Euro 2024
  • Kane made the wrong move joining Bayern

Does Arne Slot excite you or were you expecting more?

MO: "The problem with Arne Slot is that no matter who was announced, unless it was Pep, it's going to feel like a comedown from one of the greatest. Klopp just got the team, got the city, got everything straight away. He was everything a Liverpool fan would want. The wounds are open and there is a healing process, no matter who comes in it will be underwhelming.

"But you can bet Liverpool fans will be behind him. He'll be judged after that. It's a really difficult situation no matter who was appointed."

Last time we spoke, you said your England line-up was Kane, Saka, Foden, Rashford, Bellingham and Rice. But given the form of Cole Palmer, does that remain?

MO: "I'd now start Cole Palmer instead of Saka. If I was Southgate, the one thing I would look at is Anthony Gordon on the left and Marcus Rashford, they would be on the mind as left-siders because I want pace in my team from somewhere and both offer that. I would go with whoever is on form, start one in one group game, start another in another.

"But for the rest of it I would keep the same. I do not think you can ignore Palmer's form and quality for any longer, I had him in the squad back in the day but now he's one of the best players in the Premier League. He might even get player of the year, possibly the golden boot, and that's in a struggling team.

"So he's now in my mind a must. I would play him on the right. I'd have Foden and him, one on the right and one central, then have Rice as a lone number 6, then Bellingham and Foden as 8s stroke 10s, then Cole on the right, but at periods of the game I'd swap them around. Keep them two fluid. Have your left side player as your pacy outlet, then Kane up front.

"I don't think he will do that, I'm certain he will go with two 6s which I don't think is the right thing to do and then if he goes with two 6s it's likely to be Kobbie Mainoo with Declan Rice, so then you will have to bring out a Palmer or a Foden, or both because he may play Saka instead.

"It's almost unthinkable that you couldn't have Foden and Palmer in your team, they are two of our best three or four players. It is a challenge to fit them all in but in my team you do fit them all in, although Saka would miss out which is not easy to do. But he can still play a big part. 

"But if the final is tomorrow, I put Palmer and Foden in the team."

Do you fear there could be a decline under Slot similar to that of David Moyes when he joined Man Utd?

MO: "I fear it's a possibility but I hope it's not and by the time the season kicks off, everyone will be full of optimism again with a new manager, a new way of playing perhaps and one or two signings, but I don't think there will be wholesale changes. I don't think he plays in a vastly different way to how Liverpool do at the moment.

"But of course every Liverpool fan will be nervous looking at what happened to Manchester United and Arsenal, even Chelsea, although they didn't have that consistency for a long time. But once it does start slipping it's hard to get it back, we're talking fine margins and you need to be an absolutely brilliant team to be competing now.

"It's the highest standard there has ever been, you literally can't make a mistake these days. They will be nervous. Are Liverpool going to remain a powerful force or has their era of greatness slipped and will it take time to build back up again? It remains to be seen.”

After Tuesday, who are you backing to go through between Real Madrid and Bayern?

MO: "I thought City would win it, I was adamant and I still think they are the best team in Europe, but they're not going to win it so I'm going to crawl down from my perch and say Real Madrid are my new picks.

"Whether they play well or badly, which they do both, they just find a way of winning. It's incredible."

What did you think of Jude Bellingham's attempt to put off Harry Kane before his penalty?

MO: "Bellingham's attempt to put off Harry Kane didn't offend me, and if you're going to do it to anyone then I think Kane is the last person to do it to. He probably just blanks it out because he's so cool under pressure.

"As they're mates and they can joke about it, I took it well, not that it's for me to take. I didn't think it was offensive. It was a talking point but I wouldn't be digging too much further.”

Did anyone ever try something like that with you?

MO: "No one ever tried to put me off before a penalty. I always remember Stuart Pearce trying to have some words in my ear as soon as kick off went, you jog into position and he comes and marks me.

"I always remember him playing for Newcastle, coming over and telling me what was going to happen that day. One or two will say certain things in your career, but it happens quite rarely.

"He said something about breaking my legs. It's part of the game, people try to intimidate you, we are playing for high stakes. There is a lot on it. I wasn't affected, I'm not really an emotional person.

"When crowds sing songs to players and they feel they have to react, they have to put on a show, I just think it's a weak mentality. I never, ever felt the need to say things to other players to try and intimidate or react to crowds. 

"A little like Harry Kane. Look at his reaction yesterday, it is as if he didn't hear it. He's so in the zone, I'm sure some people get excited and get carried away to get an edge, but it wasn't for me."

If Harry Kane wins the Champions League with Bayern, with Spurs failing to qualify for the Champions League, will your opinion that he made the wrong decision change?

MO: "Hindsight will always win in that case. When he first moved to Bayern, I believed it was a really bad thing to do. You could have interviewed me three or four months ago and I'd have said wow, that was a great prediction, look how far they are behind in the Bundesliga.

"But that would only have been hindsight too. I believe and still do believe it was wrong. If Kane wins the Champions League, then hindsight would say I was wrong but it doesn't necessarily mean I was wrong. I left Liverpool to go to Real Madrid and that team was as average a team as there has been in the last 25 years. Then they went and won the Champions League.

"So hindsight said it was stupid, but realistically look where they finished in the league. I still believe it was the wrong thing. He could be close to being the all-time leading goalscorer now, a really exciting Spurs team that with him in it would be in the top four, and he would be four games away from being a free agent to do what he wants. He'd be living in a spectacular house where he wants to live. 

"If Real Madrid knock them out, will they say Michael Owen was right, but wrong if they go through? I still think what I said was right, it was a poor move to do what he did."

Bruno Fernandes gave a surprise interview this week hinting that he was considering leaving Manchester United. What are your thoughts?

MO: "Bruno is a very good player who would suit a lot of clubs. I think Man Utd are going through probably more important things than worrying about a player here or there at the moment. Man Utd have had great players since Sir Alex left, spent more than anyone, and look where they are. It's more important that they get their things sorted off pitch first.

"Get the right manager first, get the right team behind the scenes, from scouts to directors, the final steps then will be to see them build. But trying to just buy your way with players has been proven not to work. They can go and spend another £200m, but while things are not right behind the scenes it won't matter.

"If you fast forward five years and say a star player will leave, it will be a disaster, but at the moment there are far bigger fish to fry in terms of a manager and structure behind the scenes.

"He can score and create, who wouldn't want him, though? I haven't seen the interview, but I'd' have thought the captain of Man Utd wouldn't do that though and come out and say he wants to leave. But if he does then he does."

What did you think of Mo Salah's touchline spat with Jurgen Klopp?

MO: "Salah's spat with Klopp was not ideal. I can get his frustration if it was because of a lack of time, he is not used to being on the bench, he probably wants to win the golden boot. He's just a competitor who wants to win all the time. 

"The best thing would be to put your head down, people around the world point to it and say look at the money you earn, but they are human beings too and they have feelings. I love that he is a real winner and wants to be on the pitch all the time to score, all the time.

"I love all that. I just think the right thing to do would be to get your head down, do as well as you can, get back to the training ground, knock on the manager's door, and then if you have something to say, say it to his face. I don't like the act of petulance in the full glare of the world's cameras. He could have gone about it a different way."

Did anything like that ever happen to you or a teammate?

MO: "It happened to me and teammates, every season there are fallouts, people who get brought off and throw their shirt off, kick something on the bench, it happens most weeks. I assume I was annoyed at periods, I always remember Gerard Houllier telling me I wasn't playing in the League Cup final, but then to soften the blow promised other games and I played in the FA Cup and Europa Cup finals.

"But he just wanted to rest me in the League Cup final and I was absolutely livid, that's what you live for. There is always disappointment, and it's about how you get over them and react to them. I think that probably could have been done in a better way with Klopp. You can feel little cracks like that. Difficult situation for Liverpool."


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