Harry Kewell has let the cat out of the Anfield bag by providing the confirmation Liverpool supporters have been desperate for all summer: Michael Owen is staying at the club.
Ever since Steven Gerrard, who had seemed destined for Chelsea, performed an abrupt U-turn and announced that he would remain, supporters have been desperate for Owen to follow his England colleague's example. He is now about to do so for similar reasons, a belief that the club's ruthless sacking of Gérard Houllier shows a new determination to succeed at the highest level. Owen will only say: "We had one meeting in New York and will have another this week, and I am closer than ever [to signing]. It's not about money, the plain fact is that I want to win something.''
He presumably means something bigger than the Uefa Cup, FA Cup and League Cup, three of the five trophies that Houllier picked up in 12 months without managing to add success in the Premier-ship or Champions' League.
Now Rafael Benitez has arrived from Valencia, where he twice beat Real Madrid and the rest to the Spanish League title, bringing with him a new mood that permeated Liverpool's recent trip to the United States.
Every player seems to be emphasising the positive spirit in the camp, and Kewell is no exception. The Australian's renewed optimism, after a difficult first season following his transfer from Leeds, has been further improved by the word in the dressing room that Owen will be around to form an exciting new attacking partnership with the speedy Djibril Cissé: "Pre-season training has been hard but it has been good and different,'' Kewell said. "We have been doing a lot of new things, tactical stuff. The manager has brought a bit more positivity into the team. I think he can be good for players like me, he has been working on making quick attacks, and if that means I get more of the ball and get it early, then great.''
Liverpool fans could still be forgiven a little wariness. A year ago, Kewell and Fulham's Steve Finnan looked like excellent signings. Each of them started well but faded and, after poor performances in this summer's opening tour game against Celtic, seemed to be in danger of forfeiting their places.
Finnan is still likely to do so, with Benitez having made a Spanish compatriot, Josemi, his first acquisition, but fortunately for Kewell there are fewer options on the flanks since Vladimir Smicer's serious knee injury. There was controversy attached to his £5m transfer, of which a remarkably small proportion seemed to go where it was most needed, into the threadbare pockets of Leeds United, the club with whom he made his name. That was hardly Kewell's fault, his agent's behaviour creating such outrage that it proved to be the first step in a campaign for greater transparency over transfer fees and who paid what to whom.
"I had a good start and scored quite a few goals. But then, for whatever reason, things didn't really happen for me. You can't play at your top level all the time, you've got to have your downs, and when that happens you have to work harder and try to get yourself out of it. I've come through a bit of a bad spell and I hope I can just continue the way I'm going, keep my confidence up and go on from there.''
How does he cope with the bad times? "I cry. No, seriously, you've just got to work hard and get your head down and keep going all the time. I had to become quite self-reliant because I came over to England at a young age, but now I've got my family, I've got a wife and two lovely children and they're all part of my life. They support me.''
Used at times as a second striker, or just behind the front two, he seems certain under Benitez to fill a role wide on the left of midfield, where, as he says, the quick breaks designed to capitalise on the pace of Cissé and Owen should suit him.
Like all the leading clubs, Liverpool have less time than they would like to work with their players, old and new, this summer. There is also the early challenge of a Champions' League game in Vienna on Tuesday before starting in the Premiership at Tottenham four days later, but at least the European competition with which their followers still taunt Manchester United - four trophies to two - is back on the agenda.
"It's always good to play in the big games,'' Kewell said, "and I'm happy that we got there last year. It's something for the fans to enjoy. We worked so hard to get into the Champions' League, it would be a shame to waste the opportunity now.''
Other than that, he is making no predictions: "I'm going to let all the managers do the talking. We're just going to listen to our one and do our work for him. No one's really talking about us for the title, it's more about Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea, but everyone's entitled to their opinion.''
After the Leeds experience and working for five managers in four seasons, a little stability and gradual progression would probably do. Having Michael Owen on the end of his crosses can only help.Reuse content