The demise of Newcastle United and Michael Owen tend to go hand in hand for a lot of people. Owen, it is thought, summed up the culture at the club of overpaid and under-motivated superstars that saw them go from three consecutive top five finishes under Bobby Robson, to relegated just a few years later.
Michael Owen's new book would suggest there was more to his part in that story than meets the eye, and even more chaos and dysfunction at Newcastle than could be imagined.
Particularly, Owen claims in "Reboot", quoted today in the Newcastle Chronicle, that the club forced him to delay his return from injury after the 2006 World Cup for months in order to claim the insurance money for his injury, and told him to "hide in the toilets" instead of training in front of Sky cameras.
Owen had joined Newcastle for a club record fee at the start of the 2005/06 season, and had an injury interrupted first season before tear his cruciate ligament when playing for England at the 2006 World Cup. It appeared as though his time at Newcastle was cursed and fans were frustrated and what looked like an expensive mistake.
Owen was ready for a return by April of the following but claims that Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd attempted to stand in his way to pick up the insurance money.
Although my return to playing was a day that was always going to come, Freddy Shepherd wasn’t keen for it to be in April of 2007.
The reason for this is that the moment I played, the insurance money paying my wages stopped. Conversely, if I didn’t play, Freddy Shepherd would have another summer of this insurance cover which, when you added it up, was a hell of a lot of money.
When Owen was back to full strength, manager Glenn Roeder had to pull him at the last minute on order from the chairman. Owen was not allowed to train.
Five minutes before I’m about to go out and train in front of the Sky cameras, Glenn called me into his office. ‘The chairman said you’re not allowed to train today,’ he explained.
Glenn called Freddy Shepherd and handed me the phone.
‘Hi Chairman, the manager is saying you won’t let me train today. Is that right?’ I asked – trying to keep my composure.
‘Yeah,’ he said, going straight on to the front foot, ‘because the cameras are there and, if you go and play before the end of the season, we’re going to miss out on a fortune.’
‘So you’re saying I’m not allowed to play at all this season?’ I queried – feeling my pulse quicken.
'Yeah, you can’t – otherwise we’ve got a full summer of paying you when we could be getting it from the insurance.’
At this point, as furious as I was, I should say that I understood why Freddy Shepherd was acting like he was.
Regardless of what your views are about the concept of insurance in general, these situations probably happen all the time.
But I didn’t think it was morally or legally right – and that’s not just me being selfish because I wanted to resume playing. ‘Well, you can fuck right off,’ I said. ‘I haven’t trained this hard for this long to be told this shit.’
All I can remember next was a blur of time while he was shouting down the phone.
'Listen,’ he yelled at me, ‘you’ve earned a shit load of money since you’ve been at this bloody club. All I’m asking you to do is fucking go and hide in the toilets for five minutes for one day.’
Maybe Newcastle's problems don't all come down to Mike Ashley afterall.
Owen played for another two seasons at Newcastle before joining Manchester United following their relegation in 2009.