‘I was Prem’s hottest talent – Saudi market fascinates me but you can’t buy history’
EXCLUSIVE: Former Liverpool and Manchester United striker Michael Owen understands the financial lure of the Saudi Pro League, but not for players still at their peak
Michael Owen has warned Saudi Arabia “you can’t buy history” when it comes to their all-or-nothing approach to the transfer market.
But the sudden emergence of the Saudi Pro League and its impact on European football is fascinating the former Liverpool and Manchester United striker.
2001 Ballon d’Or winner Owen has watched numerous top stars ditch the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and so on this summer in search of a fat pay cheque.
While the motivation behind many players’ moves has been questionable to fellow pros, managers, fans and pundits, Owen can understand the desire to go later in your career – given footballers have their families and their futures to think about.
Asked if it’s something he’d have been potentially interested in during his career if the opportunity had arisen, Owen exclusively told Daily Star Sport: “If it was in my career, at this stage I still want to play in the Premier League.
“But if you were older and you’re thinking about your future, I think the general pattern is the older you get, the more you start thinking ‘Oh, God, I’ve only got two years left in my career, I’ve got another 60 70 years, I’ve got four kids, I’ve got a family’.
“I think it’s probably, from a financial point of view, to set me up for life and set my family up so we have a nicer life, we don’t have to worry. It might be better to do that.
“So I think at every stage of your career you have different viewpoints. But it’s bloody hard to say.”
Money in football has changed drastically even since Owen retired at Stoke City in the summer of 2013.
The salaries on offer in the Saudi Pro League are astronomical compared to Europe’s top flights, which speaks volumes.
It is not the first time the European market has been put under threat by an external league, either, given the Chinese Super League’s push to lure stars to Asia several years ago.
“It wasn’t so long ago that everyone thought China was going to take over and that sort of almost nosedived a little bit,” Owen added. “It’s gone a little bit quieter, you think that they were gonna have a great league and they got a lot of people, a lot of players, it feels that the Saudi League is probably here to stay a little bit more, only they’re only looking at getting bigger and better, and I think it’s good to have competition.
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“The Premier League has not been the best league in the world for forever. When I was growing up, it was the Italian league and the Spanish league which were the best, and now the Premier League is.
“To keep everyone on their toes and the market buoyant and us talking about things and just the whole of football, I think it’s great to have different leagues, different player transfers. It makes everyone sort of excited, you go down the pub and you debate it all.”
Not everyone is psyched about the impact the Saudi Pro League is having. Liverpool fans, and Jurgen Klopp, are petrified of losing Mohamed Salah before Thursday’s deadline for Saudi teams to do their summer deals. Fulham, too, lost top goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic, who had his head turned despite his past loyalties to the west London club.
Salah, in particular, has huge history with the Premier League having won the title with the Reds in 2020 and breaking numerous goals records, like Owen used to at Anfield.
The former Reds hitman takes pride in his achievements in arguably the best league in the world. And that is something 31-year-old Salah must too way up when it comes to looking back on his career.
“It’s fascinating that Saudi are throwing a lot of money at it. They’re wanting to be obviously a football powerhouse. And it’ll be fascinating how it sort of develops over the years,” said Owen, who spent one year outside of the Premier League during his career with Real Madrid in the 2004/05 campaign before returning with Newcastle.
“Now, the Premier League still has all the history. You can’t buy history, can you? It’s got everything really.
“But, Saudi is coming and it’s probably helped a lot of teams as well in this country because there’ll be a few teams so far out of FFP. If the Saudis come and pay an inflated price for a couple of the players… I find it fascinating.”