I'm happy that my mates have won the Champions' League, but I would love to win it with Real Madrid

My first year in Spain by Michael Owen
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The Independent Online

Michael Owen must have been filled with mixed emotions as he watched his former Liverpool team-mates celebrate their epic Champions' League victory over Milan on Wednesday. After all, one of the prime reasons the England striker gave for his decision to exchange what he called the Anfield "comfort zone" for the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Bernabeu was his desire to win trophies.

Michael Owen must have been filled with mixed emotions as he watched his former Liverpool team-mates celebrate their epic Champions' League victory over Milan on Wednesday. After all, one of the prime reasons the England striker gave for his decision to exchange what he called the Anfield "comfort zone" for the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Bernabeu was his desire to win trophies.

While Liverpool were revelling in their newly acquired status as Kings of the Continent, Real Madrid were preparing for their final dead-rubber fixture of a second successive trophyless season. But Owen insists he has no regrets about jumping ship to Real at the start of this season. "Maybe I was the problem," he laughs. "But I'm delighted they won. I had a fantastic time at Liverpool. I won the Uefa Cup, the League Cup, the European Supercup and the Charity Shield. Of course the Champions' League is bigger than all that, but I would love to be able to win it with Real Madrid. I'm happy with the decision I took and happy that my mates have won the Champions' League."

There were plenty of people who questioned the England striker's wisdom when he decided to join Real last August, many suggesting he would have to settle for the role of "Galactico" supersub behind Real's big guns Ronaldo and Raul.

Although he may not have won any silverware, the pocket-sized former Liverpool player can still afford to look back on his season with some considerable pride. He has defied the predictions of many and carved out a place in the Real starting line-up and has the satisfaction of knowing that, unlike his old team-mates, his side are guaranteed a place in the next edition of the Champions' League.

Owen managed to convince each one of the three coaches in charge of Real that he deserved his place alongside the Galacticos, he prompted Fernando Morientes to rethink his career and trade places at Anfield, forced club idol Raul to change position and drop back into midfield and pushed a player of the category of Luis Figo on to the bench.

Despite his success, the rumours of an imminent return persist. Manchester United, Newcastle, and even former employers Liverpool are reported to be queueing up to tempt him back to England. But with a creditable tally of 12 league goals from 19 starts, Owen remains in confident mood. The former European Footballer of the Year knows that whatever inner regrets he may have about leaving Liverpool he has done nothing but enhance his personal reputation in his first season with the Spanish giants.

"Unless someone tells me different, then I'm going to report back for duty next season," he says. "I've got three years left on my contract so it's not in my hands. When I'm playing, when things are going great there's no better place to be. It's a massive, massive club."

Although he is keen to stick to the party line when it comes to talking about his future, a season of upheaval at Real has taught him to be prepared for anything. "Normally the speculation only starts if you're not playing, but it's still rife. I've heard I've been linked to virtually every side in the top five or six at some time this year. You can't do anything about it, but if anyone is interested then I'm obviously flattered."

He admits that he found the first few months at the nine-times European champions difficult to deal with. He hardly got to know Jose Antonio Camacho before he threw in the towel and his replacement Mariano Garcia Remon lasted just three months before he was shown the door to make way for former Brazil boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo. "It seemed the first manager [Camacho] was only here for a week or two," Owen says with a bemused shake of the head. "The funny thing was it just seemed normal to everybody else here."

Owen admits that the change of life-style was difficult to deal with, but he is now settled. "I definitely feel more at home now. I'm matey with more people both on and off the pitch. It's no secret that when you move to a new country, it can be difficult at first, but the longer you're here the more you like it.

"There are certain things you miss. In the Premier League there's a lot more passion and noise from the crowd and you're all gritting your teeth before you go out, while it's much more relaxed here. At first I found it difficult waiting when someone gets fouled and the game stops. It's stop-start because there's some rolling around, then a booking and it seemed to take a while to find a rhythm."

Owen believes that the turning point of the season came when England coach Sven Goran Eriksson decided to keep faith despite the fact that he was getting so few minutes at Real. "The thing that swung it was when I had to go back to England to play against Wales and Azerbaijan. I came back here having scored a goal, I was in a different mood and had a different outlook. Then I got one against Kiev, one against Valencia and that was three winning goals on the spin. I think I went seven or eight games scoring, so it went from negative to really positive. The fans took to me, and the newspapers and everyone else changed their tune. So that was the biggest period for me."

Despite his purple patch in November, Owen still had to win the confidence of Luxemburgo when he arrived at the end of the following month. Hammering his point home by coming off the bench and notching up a handful of crucial goals as the team tried to claw back lost ground on Barça, he left Luxemburgo little choice but to drop one of his big-name stars in order to accommodate him.

"As soon as Luxemburgo came in, I was back on the bench and trying to prove myself again just like before. Gradually after a good few games he started playing me, and in important games too, so I felt it was a feather in my cap. I suppose I've had to do it the hard way because there haven't been too many injuries to strikers here this season. So when I have played the manager has had to shuffle things around a bit and I suppose I take that as a bit of a compliment."

For Real, finishing runners-up is not an option and a second trophyless season has prompted the inevitable calls for a Galactico clear-out. But Owen believes that whatever happens this summer he can still hold his head up high. "I realise that for a club like this two years without winning anything is a big thing. You sense the impatience because nobody's happy coming second. From a personal point of view though I'm delighted by the way the first season has gone, but I'd still sacrifice a lot of my goals and my fond memories for a winner's medal."

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