On hearing the news that Fernando Torres will be out for the rest of the season following surgery on his injured knee immediate comparisons with Michael Owen sprang into my mind. Both players were top class finishers and excellent strikers during their time at Anfield, and both have been dogged with persistent injury problems denying them the opportunity to realise their full potential.
Michael Owen was a class player who first got me interested in football. In fact, the reason I started supporting Liverpool at the tender age of 5 was because he played for them. On form, he could beat any goalkeeper with consummate ease and professionalism. He was mainly a poacher in the box, scoring crucial goals from close range.
He was a teenage sensation, scoring a critical goal in his debut against Wimbledon in May 1997 at only 17 years of age. Moreover, he broke all the scoring records in the youth teams as he accelerated into the first team, taking the place of an injured Robbie Fowler.
However, persistent hamstring problems continued to deny him playing time, and stoppped Reds supporters seeing his true ability on a regular basis.
Owen's finest moment in a Liverpool shirt was undoubtedly the 2001 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Liverpool were 1-0 down with only 7 minutes to go. Arsenal had dominated the game but Liverpool had managed to frustrate them for the majority of the game until the 72nd minute, when Fredrik Ljungberg gave the Gunners the lead.
Up stepped Michael Owen. He scored on 83 minutes with a right foot finish from 8 yards out to equalise and bring the Reds back into the encounter. After that, with only 2 minutes left on the clock Patrik Berger played Owen through, and Owen coolly slotted the ball past Seaman, writing his name into FA Cup history and confirming the 2001 FA Cup Final as "The Michael Owen Cup Final."
It was a tremendous moment in what was a wonderful season for Liverpool as we won the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup under the stewarship of Gerard Houiller.
The next season Michael Owen confirmed his status as a world class striker as he hit a stunning 28 goals to prove that he was worth the title of "European Footballer of the Year" which he had been given at the end of 2001.
Owen was on fire again the following season as he matched his record of 28 goals from the previous season, and scored a vital goal in the 2002/2003 League Cup final to condemn Manchester United to a 2-0 defeat.
Injury continued to hamper his progress as he managed to make only 38 appearances in all competitions during his final season at Anfield. He still managed to score an impressive 19 goals, giving him a ratio of 1 goal in every 2 games, however he could have scored so many more if he had had more minutes on the pitch.
When Gerard Houiller was sacked in the summer of 2004 doubts began to form in the media as to whether Owen would stay at the club. With only a year left on his contract Owen decided to leave for Real Madrid for a cut-price £8 million.
The way Owen left caused animosity towards him amongst the fans as he seemed unwilling to give new boss Rafa Benitez a chance. All he had to do was sign a new long-term deal, give Rafa one season to prove himself and if he still didn't like the look of the new man in charge then he could have left the following summer for his full value.
If he had taken this route then he would have won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, and would have almost certainly decided to continue his time at the club and cement his status as an Anfield legend. The way things turned out Liverpool were forced to sell their star striker for a measly £8 million when his true value was closer to the £25-30 million bracket.
To fully ruin his reputation with the Reds supporters he later signed for arch-rivals Manchester United, showing he cared little for Liverpool. The hostility between Manchester United and Liverpool is well known. It is simply unbelieveable that he should even consider a move to Manchester, and yet the move went through and we saw him return to Anfield this October. Thankfully, we got one over on Michael as the Reds recorded a vital 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Fernando Torres and David Ngog.
There's no doubt that Michael Owen was a top striker, yet he could have been so much better if he had had more playing time. In terms of League appearances Owen only managed to play more than 90% of the League matches twice, in 1997/1998 and 2002/2003. The rest of the time Owen ranged between 71.05% in 1999/2000 to 78.9% in 1998/1999.
In total, Owen played in 214 out of the 266 League games that Liverpool played between the 1997/1998 season and the 2003/20004 season (excluding the 1996/1997 season when he only appeared twice as he hadn't yet broke into the first team picture.) This means that he only played in 80.5% of the available League games during his time at Anfield.
Surely he could have been a world class striker in the mold of Ian Rush if only he'd managed to remain injury free.
Like Owen, Torres was a teenage sensation at his hometown club of Athletico Madrid. He was made captain at only 19 years of age after impressing up front, scoring 14 goals in 31 matches during the 2002/2003 season and 21 goals in 40 appearances in the following season. In the summer of 2007 he was snappped up by Liverpool for a club record fee of approximately £20 million.
Fernando Torres has been Rafa Benitez's best signing during his tenure at the club. In his first season he managed to score an astounding 33 goals in all competitions. 24 of those goals came in the League, which gave him the record of the most prolific foreign goalscorer in his debut season in the Premier League, beating Ruud Van Nistelrooy's record by one goal.
Torres continued his good form into the next season, however he was dogged by injuries and only featured in 24 of the Reds Premier League games. He still managed to score 14 League goals, helping us to a fantastic second place finish however you cannot help thinking that if he and Steven Gerrard had been fit for the majority of the season then Liverpool would have been crowned English Champions for the 19th time.
Liverpool had to fight for the title with their two main men spending too much time on the treatment table, and did extremely well in taking the race down to the wire if you consider the fact that Torres only featured in 63.2% of the League games whilst Gerrard could only play in 81.6% of the League matches. If those two players had been available 90% of the time I am convinced that we would have won the League.
This season Torres had been suffering yet again from a persistent and troublesome knee problem, which has ruled him out for the rest of the campaign. He has still scored an excellent 22 goals in all competitions, however Liverpool have had to rely on the inexperienced David Ngog to fill Torres' considerable boots for large spells of the season.
Torres will only feature in 22 League clashes this season, meaning he will have played in only 57.9% of the Reds League games this season. Over his 3 seasons on Merseyside Torres has played in only 69.2% of Liverpool's League matches. This has stopped him realising his true potential and has denied Liverpool various successes, not least the League title last year.
Torres' goalscoring records are sensational, just like Michael Owen's were during his stay at Anfield, however he looks to be suffering from the same amount of injuries as Owen had to endure. With a World Cup looming ahead in the summer, and with Torres likely to be fit to join Spain in their World Cup campaign, Torres will have a disjointed pre-season once again, which will almost certainly cause yet more injury problems next season.
Let's hope that Torres can overcome his horrible injury record and get fully fit in time for the new season, when Liverpool will aim to right the wrong's of this season and climb up the table to challenge the big guns at the top of the League. If he doesn't then Liverpool could face another season relying on inexperienced youngsters to fire in the goals.