Michael Chopra hits out at 'disrespectful' Michael Owen over Newcastle United revelations
Michael Chopra, like every Newcastle United fan, was excited when Michael Owen joined the club.
Chopra, however, wasn’t just going to watch him at St James’s Park, where thousands of supporters welcomed Owen as the ink dried on the England international’s lucrative contract. He was going to train alongside Owen, signed from Real Madrid for a club-record £16million fee in 2005.
Owen, we know now, wasn’t excited at the prospect of signing for Newcastle, then-managed by Graeme Souness.
“From a career perspective, there was no doubt in my mind that a move to the North East was a downward step,” writes Owen in his new autobiography “Reboot”. “As unpalatable as that opinion might be to Newcastle fans, that’s more or less what I felt.”
Owen’s comments were certainly unpalatable to Shearer, his former strike partner. The pair, once close, haven’t spoken since the club’s relegation a decade ago.
Chopra is just as angry at Owen’s “disrespect” for a club which paid him £120,000-a-week in wages during his four years on Tyneside.
“That’s the thing that probably hurts the most,” said Chopra, who hit the headlines last month after criticising Steve Bruce, United's new head coach.
“They (the fans) expected so much from Michael Owen, especially coming from Real Madrid. He didn’t have a bad season at Real Madrid. He scored a lot of goals. Fair enough, they were from the substitute's bench.
“For him to come out and say he was in two minds and didn’t really want to come, and on the day he was going to be presented to all those fans in the stadium he was thinking of not signing and calling the deal off. I think that’s what hurts the fans the most about what he’s saying.
“The club gave him a lot of money. He was on £120,000-a-week. I think there was only two or three players in that time that were on that sort of money. He was in that bracket of superstar wages.
“You’ve got Newcastle fans who work very hard that go to work and look forward to watching Newcastle at the weekend and their team putting 100% effort in. For him to come out and say that is disrespectful of the football club and also the fans, because they believed in Michael Owen.
“They believed he was going to take Newcastle United places, and he, basically, threw it all back in their faces.”
Owen – who joined Manchester United when his contract expired in the wake of relegation – also says that the late Freddy Shepherd, the club’s chairman, felt that the club was “10% bigger” than it was at the time because he was a fan.
Chopra, for his part, believes that Newcastle supporters are “realistic” about the size and stature of their club, which hasn’t won a major trophy in the past 50 years.
“You know what, I’ve got nothing against Mo (Owen),” said Chopra. “When he came to the club, I had the same agent. I had the same agent as Alan Shearer.
“When I got told that he would possibly sign for Newcastle, you’re thinking ‘wow, this is a big statement, this is a huge player for Newcastle United’. You’ve got an England international, Alan Shearer, and you’re going to have another – Michael Owen. You’re thinking ‘this is big news. There’s a chance that Newcastle can really go on and push to where they were and back into the Champions League places’.
“They were still in European competitions when he came to the club. We’re not a massive club like Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, but they’re a big club in terms of the fanbase, a brilliant stadium and you’ve got followers worldwide. But they’re not a huge club like the big teams I’ve mentioned.
“For him to come out and criticise Newcastle United fans and owners thinking we’re 10% better than what we are … we don’t.
“We know where we are in the league. We know that we should be challenging for, probably, top eight or nine, not Champions League or top six, but you should be challenging for the European competitions.
“That’s where most fans see Newcastle United at this moment in time, and probably back then as well. Were Newcastle United going to get into the Champions League when he was at the club? Probably not. We’re realistic as football fans.”
Chopra – who retired three years ago and now works for a football agency in Amsterdam – is grateful to Owen for helping him on the field during their year together at St James’s Park.
“It helped that we were with the same agency,” said the 35-year-old. “Me being a young, small striker, a similar build to Michael at the time and how he played, he helped me.
“I respect everything he did in the game and how he tried to help me become a better player. I can’t disrespect the guy, because he tried to help me as a footballer. But I’ll disrespect him for what he’s saying about Newcastle United fans.”