Ex Files: Liverpool
All week we will be looking back at three players from England's top clubs whom the fans have loved to hate, and those whom they wish had never left. Then one from a rival club whom they hate to say they love. Steven Kelly delves into Liverpool's recent past.
Love to hate: Michael Owen
Life's too short to hate a footballer. No one goes to a club like Liverpool without initially wanting to do their best. Greed, failure, injury or a creeping realisation they'll never be a crowd favourite wears them down -- some quicker than others, admittedly. The plummeting speed record for Red disillusionment is probably still held by Paul Konchesky, but plenty of others vie for that unwanted label, and it's not like anyone had high hopes for him to begin with. Those who fail and move on, barely leaving a dent in the furniture, aren't worthy of anything more than indifference or mild contempt at the most.
In football, as in life, it's worse when love turns sour and betrayal makes relationships bitter. That means you need to have worshipped the same player to an absurd degree and also to have watched him eventually play for a club you despise -- so for me that only leaves two candidates: Michael Owen and Fernando Torres.
Imagine someone winning the youth cup almost single-handedly then taking the Premier League and World Cup by storm before he's 18. He later wins the FA Cup final with a bravura late performance, and for a time he's almost carrying the team. He's "Liverpool's Michael Owen".
Then he turns round and blatantly, wordlessly, tells the supporters "I'm too good for you now." You won't even get a decent price as there's one year left on his contract. Sure, you can feast on the schadenfreude of subsequent failures, but it'll never erase the original betrayal mixed with sadness and a fairly pathetic belief that he'd have continued to thrive had he stayed.
Love to love: Peter Crouch
From those currently playing most would probably say Xabi Alonso but his departure ended up hurting the club I love -- the club that always comes first no matter how good a player is or was. That's a given. Any subsequent decline will almost inevitably taint the memory of a player, however slightly and no matter how understandable his departure might have been.
As far as revelling in an ex-player's current goals, performances and achievements is concerned, it's also difficult to delight in Xabi's medals at Real Madrid when they are also Cristiano Ronaldo's achievements. That just doesn't sit right, and never will.
Yet a smile is never far from my face when I see a Peter Crouch goal. In fact, the mere sight of Peter automatically triggers a grin, like a beloved comic character from childhood. Few Liverpool fans like Stoke City much, but Peter's short if eventful Anfield career left lingering traces of respect and enjoyment. He began so badly he almost became a pity case at one point. Anfield nearly erupted when he finally ended his goal drought against Wigan Athletic. It's still one of the favourite moments from that era, and Crouch went on a great goal-scoring run afterwards to prove he had more than just height.
When Rafa Benitez decided to play Torres solo up front it was obvious that Crouch's chances would eventually become fewer and fewer. No real bad-mouthing, no bitterness -- just a quick and quiet move to keep playing first-team football. Other players can sit on the bench for years just for the cheque, so when someone wants to play regularly you have to admire that.
Hate to love: Ross Barkley
This is cheating, as you rarely hear anyone say they truly despise the young Everton midfielder but it's only a matter of time, surely. He's destined to become an Everton great, though the chances of him staying long enough for that are slim on recent evidence. Liverpool fans may start to hate him when he inevitably scores the derby winner and displays a T-shirt message in a barely legible scrawl about how he'll always be blue -- like the one Wayne Rooney wore two years before scarpering to Manchester.
For now it's impossible to dislike such a professional, decent lad. To a cynic, he seemed one of the few Everton players giving his all when Liverpool needed Manchester City to drop precious title points at Goodison in May. The remarkable goal he scored that day resembled the one from Rooney against Arsenal in 2002 that marked him out for greatness, hinting there was a lot more to come.
If he were at Old Trafford, Barkley would probably be hated more, as he'd be bound to stay for years of success like Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes. Even so there's something genuinely carefree and exciting about the way he plays the game. Perhaps some small spark of civic pride also likes the idea of a Liverpool-born player becoming just as big a world star as Rooney or Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool still have plenty of Suarez money in reserve. Would it be worth a cheeky bid? Imagine the Evertonian screeching. Imagine if it were successful ...