What REALLY happened with Alan Shearer, Liverpool and Newcastle United amid Michael Owen claim
Newcastle United fans have long memories. And Michael Owen knows that more than most given that much of his time at St James’s Park is best forgotten.
“My move to Newcastle was one I really regret – I should have followed my gut instincts from the start,” writes Owen in his new book “Reboot”. “I didn’t want to go there – my heart was still set on a return to Liverpool.”
Owen adds: “From a career perspective, there was no doubt in my mind that a move to the North East was a downward step.”
Alan Shearer, his former strike partner at Newcastle, took exception on Twitter to serialised excerpts from the book.
Owen hit back at Shearer, once a close friend, with a tweet questioning his loyalty to the club.
“Not sure you are as loyal to Newcastle as you make out mate,” said the former England international. “I distinctly remember you being inches away from signing for Liverpool after Sir Bobby Robson put you on the bench. You tried everything to get out.”
But did he? Did Shearer really “try everything to get out” of his boyhood club?
Liverpool, then managed by Gerard Houllier, did make a discreet enquiry about Shearer in the summer of 2003. Shearer, however, didn’t want to leave the club, which had finished third in the top flight – and five points ahead of Houllier’s side – in the 2002/03 season.
And Shearer made it clear he didn’t want to leave the following year while in the Far East with his team-mates for a pre-season tour after being linked with a move to Qatar. At the time, United were in talks with free agent Patrick Kluivert, whose agent was shown around St James’s Park the day Robson’s side drew 1-1 with Thailand at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium.
Shearer, with good reason, felt that Robson was looking to phase him out. Shearer knew that then-chairman Freddy Shepherd wanted to sign Kluivert, released by Barcelona that summer, and he also knew that Sir Bobby was minded to give Shola Ameobi more games.
The former England international, aware of interest at home and abroad from “one or two” clubs, made his position clear in an candid interview in a hot and humid Bangkok.
“I haven't read the newspaper stories,” said Shearer, pointedly. “I’ve heard about them, and I have to say one or two clubs have shown an interest.
“But people know my love for Newcastle United, and the only time I’d ever consider leaving here was if the manager was to tell me before the season that I wasn’t going to be a regular, because obviously I want to play football in my last season.
“That would be the only time I would ever consider leaving Newcastle. If the manager said I wasn’t going to be a regular, then I would have to consider things, because I want to play as much football as I can in my last season.”
Shearer, understandably unhappy at the idea of a lesser role at the club, had cleverly put the ball in Robson’s court ahead of the second leg of the tour.
Sir Bobby, rarely lost for words, wasn’t willing to play ball. Robson, briefed about the interview and the headlines back home, appeared tetchy when he appeared at an awkward press conference in Hong Kong alongside Shepherd – and Shearer. He refused to comment on his No9’s future.
Shepherd, however, was unequivocal about Shearer’s future in a separate interview with the Gazette – and that was that.
"As far as I'm concerned, Alan Shearer’s going nowhere," said Shepherd. "Knowing Alan, he’ll be seeing his contract out for the rest of the season. And isn't it nice that a player of Alan's stature is so desperate to play for Newcastle United and doesn't want to even think about missing a single match?
"It speaks volumes for the man. He is one of the club's all-time greats."
Things were smoothed over behind the scenes, and Shearer went on to end his career at St James’s Park.
Robson’s career at his beloved Newcastle wouldn’t end on his own terms, however. He was unceremoniously sacked the following month by Shepherd. Shearer had been a substitute for his last game, a 4-2 defeat away to Aston Villa.
Shearer, of course, wrote himself into the club’s history books by becoming Newcastle’s all-time leading goalscorer the following season after signing a one-year contract extension.
Owen, a £16million signing from Real Madrid, was alongside Shearer for half of that campaign. It was a good partnership while it lasted. Owen’s pace and movement complemented Shearer’s physical strength and predatory instincts in and around the box. It worked well at international level, and it worked well at United for a few short months before Owen broke a metatarsal in December.
Just over a month later, Shearer broke Jackie Milburn’s scoring record with his 201st goal for the club. He would retire at the end of the season with 206 Newcastle goals to his name. The last, memorably, came against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. He limped off the field with what would turn out to be a season-ending knee injury after scoring from the penalty spot.
Shearer put his body on the line during his decade at the club – and repaid his £15million with interest. His loyalty to the club can’t be questioned.
The same can’t exactly be said for Owen, who scored 30 goals in an injury-interrupted four-year career at St James’s Park.