The recent media whirlwind surrounding the ailing fortunes of Liverpool have somewhat overshadowed the imminent return of Michael Owen to Anfield. The issue has almost slipped completely under the radar.
Of course it won’t be the first time the 29-year-old has returned to Merseyside.
He endured two 3-0 defeats in the black and white of Newcastle. On both occasions he received a mixed reaction from the Kop: respectful claps acknowledging a fallen hero mingled in with a scattering of scornful jeers.
On Sunday, the former Liverpool No. 10 can expect a much more hostile reception.
Few players have made the switch from Liverpool to United or vice versa. To find the last player to have moved directly between the two clubs, one has to track back through the football timeline to 1964.
United’s Phil Chisnall swapped Old Trafford for Anfield and remains in the history books as the last player to have made the controversial change.
Owen hasn’t hopped out of Benitez’s modest double berth into Ferguson’s king sized poster bedstead. He has shown dutiful respect, initially moving to Madrid then to the torrid Toon.
Yet this won’t help quell the smouldering Anfield atmosphere on Sunday.
Paul Ince spent six fruitful years at Old Trafford, departing for Milan in 1995. Two years later he returned to England, content to embrace the Liver bird.
Manchester United fans aired their dissatisfaction with their former hero. Owen would do well to prepare himself for a similar reaction.
Owen cemented his place in Liverpool history with his fantastic goal record. In 11 years at the club he made 300 appearances and the England international found the net on 158 occasions. Only Ian Rush, Roger Hunt and Billy Liddell boast superior stats.
Talismanic Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, described his close friend as “the best striker in the history of Liverpool Football Club.” Rush and company may have something to say about that and not discounting the current darling of the Kop, Fernando Torres.
Ironically the original boy-wonder may be called upon by Ferguson to replace the injured Wayne Rooney. If so, it seems fateful that Owen will play a starring role in the return of the prodigal son. In a Manchester United shirt.
The cameras will be ready, the country will be watching.
Should Owen poach a goal in front of the Kop then his reaction will be interesting. Has the ex-lover moved on or will he show respectful disdain for his former employers, for his former love?
Either way it is inevitable that he will upset some supporters in Red.
It’s never a pleasant experience watching a former club icon, celebrate the crucial winning goal for the club that you have reviled since childhood.
Add in the factor that it is a must-win game for Rafa Benitez and his squad and it appears we have the perfect recipe for the biggest derby in British football, the El Classico of England.
Expect a stalemate.