Owen has 'no regrets' about Real life

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The Independent Football

To Michael Owen it was an unwelcome reminder of what life would be like without David Beckham. Walking into an interview room in midtown Manhattan, he was assailed by photographers and journalists. The mind went back to autumn 1998 when the then teenaged Owen was fresh from a World Cup he had taken by storm. Walking into a Stockholm hotel he was besieged by the Swedish media, who asked questions like: "What is your favourite colour?"

To Michael Owen it was an unwelcome reminder of what life would be like without David Beckham. Walking into an interview room in midtown Manhattan, he was assailed by photographers and journalists. The mind went back to autumn 1998 when the then teenaged Owen was fresh from a World Cup he had taken by storm. Walking into a Stockholm hotel he was besieged by the Swedish media, who asked questions like: "What is your favourite colour?"

Then David met Victoria and Owen gratefully retreated into the shadows. His return to the spotlight on Monday was temporary, Beckham was next on the dais and the photographers were merely warming up for the main event.

There were no inane questions for Owen. While Beckham would be asked to recount why he had called his eldest son Brooklyn, and whether, when taking a free-kick, he thought about the "whole Bend It Like Beckham thing" Owen was asked about football.

Not that this was entirely welcome. The subjects under debate were his failure to win a trophy at Real Madrid, or even maintain a place in the starting line-up, and Liverpool's success in the Champions' League without him. Owen, though, had the right answers.

"There's been a lot written and spoken about me and Madrid, but my

situation is fine," he said. "I played a lot of games this season and I'm more used to the language and living there. I feel I had a good season. We didn't win anything, which a club the size of Real Madrid needs to rectify, but I'm happy there.

"People have said: 'Why did I go from being first choice at Liverpool to fourth at Real?' But anyone who has watched the season overall would say I've been a success at Real Madrid.

"The England manager has been campaigning for winter breaks and less games and more rest ahead of the World Cup. Then you get someone like me, who has started 30 games, and come on 20 times. If that is the same next season the manager is not likely to complain.

"You want to play every game but if you play 50-60 games in a season it is not surprising if you feel tired and not at your best in the World Cup. Likewise, if you play only five or six games you lose your sharpness.

"I've certainly no regrets. You can count on one hand the number of players who have turned down Madrid. Anyone who goes to watch them will understand why people want to play for them. I would have regretted it all my life if I had not gone to experience playing in a different country. All those things make you a more rounded person and player."

Owen said that he had watched Liverpool's victory at home in Spain. "Milan were fantastic in the first half and a lot of people supporting Liverpool were just hoping it would not be 4-0 or 5-0, let alone that they could win the cup. Milan will still be thinking, 'How did we let a three-goal lead slip?' Italian defences have a world-wide reputation for keeping it tight and not giving anything away. But that first goal gave Liverpool belief. You get that spark and start believing. That is the great thing about sport.

"I was proud not jealous," added Beckham of Liverpool's win once he had waded through the photographers. "Even as a Manchester United fan I was proud as an Englishman.

"Everyone that watched it had goosebumps at the end when they saw Stevie G[errard] pick the trophy up. Any team that wins that competition deserves to win it."

Beckham was equally keen to stress his contentment in Madrid, where he has presumably come to terms with paparazzi hounding his children. "Real Madrid is one of the biggest clubs in the world and I am happy there," he said, dismissing speculation linking him with Arsenal and others. "I want to finish my career there. I have two years left on my contract and maybe in July we will start negotiating an extension."

Before then the Beckham circus will travel to Los Angeles, where he will open a soccer academy, and Singapore when he will support London's 2012 Olympic Bid. The soccer school follows on from one he opened in London in the spring. "It is not about 'cracking America', it is about giving the kids an opportunity to go to a soccer academy like mine in LA," he said. "If that produces the new Mia Hamm [the much-decorated former US women's international] it will have worked."

Beckham also suggested he might eventually play in America: "That could happen. I love America. I've been on holiday many times here. Maybe I would play here." He said much the same to the Japanese in 2002. Perhaps we will hear he is thinking about playing in Singapore next.

A cheap shot? Sometimes it is hard not to be cynical about Beckham so, to redress the balance, here is Sven Goran Eriksson's testimony. "He is no diva. When Beckham is on the field he works as hard as the others. My friends in Spain expected a glamour boy, all sunshine and money, but were extremely surprised by how professional his approach to football."

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