Benitez had eye on Owen but Torres won out with pace and age

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The Independent Online

For those who questioned the validity of Rafael Benitez's pursuit of Michael Owen in 2005, yesterday's admission that the former Liverpool player was a potential transfer target once again last summer should end any doubt about the Spaniard's admiration for the England striker.

Benitez is hardly preoccupied about not signing Owen, with Fernando Torres having scored 24 goals since joining in a £27m deal last summer and the Spanish striker will be looking for a third straight treble at Anfield this afternoon. But the fact that Owen was under consideration is another interesting footnote in his relationship with a forward who has never played a single game for him.

With Owen having less than a year to run on his contract, Benitez was effectively forced to sell to Real Madrid just a few weeks into his reign in 2004 and it has been claimed that other parties at the club were the driving force behind attempts to bring him back when he joined Newcastle a year later.

Liverpool were once again in the market for a top-draw striker last summer and Benitez revealed for the first time yesterday that Owen, 28, was on his shortlist of possible signings. Although Torres was always his first choice, he thinks that the forward, who enjoyed by far the most productive spell of his career at Anfield, can again reach the goal-scoring feats he achieved earlier in his career.

Benitez, who will not risk midfielder Javier Mascherano today with next week's Champions League tie with Internazionale in mind, said: "I am really happy with Torres. We know that Michael is a really good finisher, a good striker, but this year we were looking for a player with the conditions of Torres, a player with pace and power. We had a list of 10 strikers and then we decided two or three were the priority and Torres was the first option because he's young so he's a good player and it's also good business for the club."

"He [Owen]was one of the names that we had and one of the options that we had. We needed to decide and we needed to consider different things with the age and the pace of Torres. His conditions were the key," Benitez added.

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