Owen owes Liverpool nothing

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The Independent Online

In the last few days one fervent wish has been granted - and another formed. The first came when Michael Owen scored twice against Portsmouth. This may not represent any pinnacle of achievement for one of the greatest goalscorers this country has ever produced, but it did remove some of the pressure which always builds so quickly around this superb professional whenever he goes a few games without hitting the spot.

In the last few days one fervent wish has been granted - and another formed. The first came when Michael Owen scored twice against Portsmouth. This may not represent any pinnacle of achievement for one of the greatest goalscorers this country has ever produced, but it did remove some of the pressure which always builds so quickly around this superb professional whenever he goes a few games without hitting the spot.

Another weight will not be lifted until he makes a decision about whether or not to sign again for Liverpool. One Anfield fan was recently heard to say on a national phone-in show that Owen owed his club at least another season.

There are two certainties about Owen, now and in the future. One, if he can avoid serious injury, is that he will come close to smashing every scoring record in the history of these islands. The other is that he owes Liverpool and their fans precisely nothing the moment his contract expires.

If he chooses to stay at Anfield it will be a great bonus for the club, and especially if they ever evolve a system of play even vaguely attuned to the vast advantage his pace and eye for goal offer in return for regular service. But if he does go - and don't believe those stories that teams like Real Madrid have abandoned belief in his ability - he can do it with his head held as high as Kevin Keegan when he decided to leave the forttress he had built as a player at Anfield to experience a wider football world.

Owen has never given Liverpool less than 100 per cent. It is something too easily lost in the vagaries of shifting form.

That other item on the wish list is for Claudio Ranieri to upset the great Arsène Wenger in the quarter-finals of the Champions' League on his way to winning the trophy - an ambition of Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, and his new chief executive, Peter Kenyon, which, despite this week's denials from Stamford Bridge, appears to be so fierce that they have been feeling out the German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld as still another candidate for Ranieri's job.

Having won the trophy, Ranieri would then, of course, march away with great disdain. It is possible to ache for such an outcome because Ranieri is a good football man operating in the most difficult and humiliating circumstances. Kenyon, a man of commerce rather than football, has so far given Ranieri one gift - a statement that a trophy must be won this season. How wonderful if Ranieri could return it with spectacular interest - and contempt.

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