Premier League • England

Manager reveals failed Liverpool plan to swap homegrown superstar for La Liga winning captain

Juanfran of Atletico Madrid

Former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has come clean on his decision to sell Michael Owen while in charge of the Reds – and admits he wanted to move the striker to Real Madrid and as part of a swap deal for another La Liga star.

Owen was the homegrown hero who burst on to the scene back in 1997/98 season. So good was the then-teenager that he went on to secure a place in Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup squad, scoring one of England most-memorable ever goals during the match against Argentina.

And Owen went on to score 158 goals for the Reds during his 297 games, breaking all sorts of records in the process.

However, his time on Merseyside came to an end in August 2004 when he was sold to Real Madrid for a mere £8m. Part of the deal saw Antonio Nunez moving to Anfield as a makeweight.

That sale was triggered by Benitez, whom had been named as Liverpool boss earlier that summer. But with Owen making clear he wanted to move on, Benitez was left with little choice but to sanction the sale of the club hero.

Owen went on to play for Newcastle United following his one year in Spain. But it was only when he left St James’ Park to sign for Manchester United in summer 2009 when Owen was to lose his status as an Anfield legend.

Nonetheless, the sale of Owen to Real Madrid in August 2004 was a huge story of its time.

However, Benitez, speaking to the Official Liverpool FC podcast, admits he had wanted to sell Owen as his first act at Liverpool.

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Benitez wanted Owen swap deal for Juanfran

But rather than block Owen’s departure to Los Blancos, Benitez had instead tried to orchestrate a swap deal involving another Real star, Juanfran.

The then 19-year-old was something of an unknown and had rarely featured in the Real Madrid first team.

However, the move did not come to fruition with Benitez opening up on the failure.

“I knew 100 per cent that they would do the deal and I said to [then chief executive] Rick Parry, we have to do this price and try to put this young player, who was Juanfran from the B team who went to Atletico Madrid in the end as a full-back.

“But at the time he was a winger and we needed a right-winger. They put Nunez in the deal and we got Nunez who was injured and maybe was not the best signing. But we were trying to bring someone else to improve the deal for us,” Benitez said.

Juanfran was later loaned to Espanyol before eventually signing for Osasuna, where he would play for five seasons.

However, it was not until a 2010 move to Atletico Madrid where Juanfran really made his name.

And it was at the Spanish giants where the right-back would lift the La Liga title as captain of Atleti in the 2013/14 season.

Sadly for Liverpool, Juanfran was very much a case of the one that got away. But it also proves that Benitez had a sharp eye for a player as well he proved on multiple occasions at Anfield.

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