Owen, who had emerged from the Anfield ranks as a precocious 17-year-old and established himself on the biggest stage of all as a teenager during England’s 1998 World Cup campaign, had been coveted by the Spaniards for some time, and they finally pushed home their interest.
Just weeks after Benitez had arrived from Valencia to replace Gerard Houllier as manager, Real prised Owen from the Reds’ grasp in return for around £8million and winger Antonio Nunez, in the process reuniting him with international team-mate David Beckham, who had headed to the Bernabeu during the previous summer.
— LaLiga (@LaLiga) August 14, 2020
The player’s departure, which sparked suggestions – vehemently denied – that the club’s new Spanish boss was getting rid of the English contingent he had inherited with Danny Murphy having already departed for Charlton, came after he had entered the final year of his contract on the red half of Merseyside with no fresh deal agreed.
Benitez said at the time: “It was impossible to control the situation. For us it was bad, but at the end it was impossible. He will sign a contract with a good team in Real Madrid and we need to use this money to balance the team.
“We were very happy with Michael, we wanted Michael here a lot of years, but a long time had gone by without signing a new contract. Last year Real Madrid tried to sign the player and now they have done.”
Owen made his LaLiga debut in a 1-0 victory at Real Mallorca and scored the first of his 16 goals, a Champions League winner, against Dynamo Kiev.
However, his stay in Spain lasted just a single season and when Liverpool found themselves priced out of securing a swift return by Newcastle, he headed for Tyneside in August 2005 as the Magpies’ record £16million signing and endured an ultimately unsuccessful four-year spell in the north east which culminated in relegation from the Premier League in 2009.
By contrast, the Reds, boosted by the addition of Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia, had gone from strength to strength in Owen’s absence.
On May 25, 2005, Benitez led the club to a remarkable Champions League final victory over AC Milan in which they had trailed 3-0 at half-time in Istanbul with Alonso among the scorers.