Owen deserves respect for exploits in Liverpool shirt, says Carragher

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The Independent Football

Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher believes former striker Michael Owen deserves to be treated with respect when he returns to Anfield for the defender's testimonial today.

Owen is a long-time friend of the veteran centre-back and has agreed to turn out again in a Liverpool shirt, despite now being a Manchester United player.

The England international's previous returns to Anfield with Newcastle have not been the happiest of homecomings and there have been some suggestions the welcome will be even more hostile now he plays for Reds' arch-rivals.

Carragher said that would be unfair on Owen, whom some fans have not forgiven for leaving the club for Real Madrid after allowing his Liverpool contract to run into its last year. "I hope it doesn't affect the reception, I think he deserves a great one for what he did for Liverpool," said the centre-back. "He was a fantastic player, right up there with the greats. He left in difficult circumstances but when he went to Manchester United his career was on a bit of a downward spiral, he'll admit that himself. The chance to go to one of the biggest clubs of the world was difficult to turn down.

"He moved and upset some people but he had to do what was right for himself and his family. His kids were just starting school and he wanted to move back home so that came into it.

"I saw the other day Bobby Charlton played in Tommy Smith's [testimonial] and he wore a Liverpool kit – I think that is worse, isn't it?"

Carragher has persuaded Danny Murphy, Jerzy Dudek, Luis Garcia, Emile Heskey, Steve Finnan and Stephen Warnock to play for his Liverpool XI, with the Liverpool manager, Roy Hodgson, in charge against an Everton XI. The former Anfield manager Gérard Houllier, with whom Carragher won the A Cup, League Cup and Uefa Cup in 2001, will also be there but Hodgson's predecessor Rafael Benitez, who moved to Internazionale in July, is unable to attend.

"It will be good for a lot of those players to get the appreciation of the crowd," Carragher added. "If I was in that situation and moved away from Liverpool I'd love the chance to play at Anfield and pull on the red shirt again."

Some players were unavailable because of international commitments while Dietmar Hamann, one of the most well-liked and respected of Carragher's former team-mates, will be on club duty. "Didi would have been a good one but he is actually playing for MK Dons," said the defender. "But he will come to the evening gala dinner."

All proceeds from the game and gala dinner will go to Carragher's 23 Foundation, which supports local charities and groups.

The Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, believes Carragher, who has enjoyed a 14-year career with the Reds is a "one-off". Gerrard, who hopes to be able to make a brief appearance in the wake of England's European qualifier last night, said Carragher's influence on the team during that time should not be underestimated.

"You tend to associate players these days moving around a lot but Carra is, in many ways, a one-off and nobody deserves to celebrate their career more," said the Liverpool captain who, along with Carragher, makes up the team's Scouse heartbeat. "He has put so much effort into his career, has shown so much desire and sweated blood for the club.

"It's great I'm going to have chance to celebrate with him. He's been a big influence on me ever since I arrived at Melwood on day one. We come from similar backgrounds, so it was easy bouncing ideas off each other and I've got nothing but the utmost respect for him as a player and person."

Gerrard added in the Liverpool Echo: "Every successful team needs a player like Carra. It doesn't matter what type of game it is, he leaves everything out on the pitch.

"He has worked so hard for everything he has achieved. There have been times when he has had his fair share of criticism but we all go through that. What is important is how you come through it and Carra has shown consistently in recent years he has been one of the best defenders in the world. He is a brilliant organiser and leads by example. He deserves to be called a Liverpool great."

The Liverpool striker Fernando Torres' return to full fitness is ahead of schedule but the club's medical staff do not expect him to reach his physical peak for another month.

The 26-year-old has been hampered by two knee operations in the first four months of the year and an adductor injury sustained in Spain's World Cup final victory in July.

However, he scored his first Liverpool goal since April on Sunday as they beat West Bromwich, against whom he played 89 minutes, and the club's head of sports science Peter Brukner believes Torres, who is away on international duty with Spain, will soon be back in top condition.

"He's actually slightly ahead of schedule – he played a game earlier than we thought," said Brukner, referring to the substitute appearance against Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season.

"He started off with a few minutes, then a few more minutes and then started the last couple of [Premier League] games.

"But for a kick on the shin against West Bromwich he would have played the whole game. We@re now at the stage where he can play the whole game," Brukner continued.

"He's still not at his physical peak, that will take another three or four weeks, but I think you can see in every game he's played he's improving. I don't think it will be too long before the old Fernando Torres is back – and I'm looking forward to that."

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