Evans debunks the myths around golden boot boy

The mentor's verdict
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But the manager who nurtured Michael Owen at Anfield and handed that golden-booted 17-year-old his professional debut has at least been prepared to lead the chorus of disbelief this past few days. Agog on the Tyne they might have been, but far from merry across the Mersey didn't begin to describe it.

"I still can't believe it," said Roy Evans in Cardiff, and the 56-year-old wasn't referring to the transform-ation in his own fortunes that has taken him from manager of Liverpool to assistant manager of Wales in little over half a decade. "You shouldn't find anything that's shocking in professional football any more. But this..." His words trailed away as he tried to make sense of 12 bizarre months that ended in Owen joining an inferior Premiership side to Liverpool. It was easy to sense that only pride in his own qualities was stopping Evans from announcing: "It wouldn't have happened in my day."

Except he would have been right, it wouldn't have, especially in the never-never-leave land of the fabled Boot Room. "Not that long ago you would have said that he would have stayed forever at Liverpool - and even if he had have gone, it would be the first place he would have returned to - because that's what it was like then, testimonial after testimonial after testimonial. But football has changed immeasurably. Loyalty in the game is gone now, and people always say that about the players, but really it's on both sides. Life changes. It's just a reflection on society, I guess."

But not, he believes, the greatest reflection on Liverpool. "I do hope the fans don't think Michael's snubbed Liverpool, because it seems to me that it's the other way around," he said. "They were supposed to have had a meeting with him, but it can't have been the most sensible of meetings - just in and out. I really believed he was coming back."

Despite having little to do nowadays with the club he will forever worship, and only occasional contact with the boys such as Gerrard and Jamie Carragher he brought through, this episode still rankles, as do the myths he thinks continue to be built up around Owen. "I was amazed that none of the top four clubs signed him, the Arsenals and all. But there is a lot of bollocks talked about Michael. Firstly, people say that with the injuries he's lost half a yard. Well, what I saw in Spain he hadn't. There's a lot of politics in Madrid and, for me, he didn't get anything like the number of games his displays said he should.

"Secondly, there's that thing about him not being able to play in this or that system. Give him the service and he'll give you the goals, it's as simple as that. I'm sure he can be as good for Newcastle as he was for Liverpool and help make them a real threat with 25 goals a season. He's only 25, and with his physique can be around a long time.

"Then everyone said that it's so impor-tant for Sven Goran Eriksson that he came back and played every week. Well, I'm sure it was, but it's a damned sight more important for Michael. Although too much is made of him being clean-living and all that - believe me, he likes a pint and is just a normal guy - Newcastle can be assured that they'll be getting 100 per cent week in, week out, because that's the only way Michael Owen knows. That's what's important to him. He's football daft. He'd always be in my side."

Alas, he's not. "I know Michael would have loved to have gone back to Anfield," Evans said. "But then, he's got to play somewhere, hasn't he?"

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