By Russell Stoddart
Former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houghton has urged the club's fans not to let Michael Owen's time at fierce rivals Manchester United tarnish his Reds legacy.
Owen announced on Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the 2012-13 season, and Houghton believes the 33-year-old was at his best with the Reds, notching 158 of his 220 career goals to date for the club.
"Michael might live to regret going to United in 2009 but it was a decision he had every right to make if he thought it would better his career," Houghton told Goal.com.
"You only have one career and footballers cannot afford to have the same emotional attachments that fans have for clubs.
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"United are known as 'the enemy' by Liverpool fans and I understand where [they] are coming from, but Michael's loyalties are to his family and he would also have seen it as the best opportunity to win more silverware.
"Michael is not accepted as much as a Reds legend as his goals might suggest even before he moved to United and that is probably because he wasn't a die-in-the-wool fan of the club, unlike, say, John Aldridge, who is still adored at Liverpool despite only being there for a couple of seasons.
"I think you will find that future generations of Liverpool fans will hold Michael in higher esteem because they will see videos him at his best in a Reds shirt and won’t be too bothered with where he ended his career."
Houghton left the Anfield club before Owen joined as a schoolboy but watched his career closely as it developed from raw talent to world-class goalscorer.
"Michael was blessed with blistering pace and a lethal scoring instinct," he added. "His goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup was unusual because he rarely beat three or four players.
"His strength was to get on the shoulder of the last defender and when the ball was played through no one could stop him.
"The secret to a good finisher is the ability to relax in the box and Michael had that in abundance. He always looked at his calmest when he had the ball at his feet and was ready to shoot.
"It was a shame he was struck down by so many injuries because I'm sure his career would have flourished."
Owen left Anfield in 2004 to join Spanish giants Real Madrid and, although his scoring record was good, his career was already being clouded by injury and he soon moved back to England with Newcastle.
Houghton continued: "It is just human nature that fans will feel let down by a top player wanting to move to another club.
"Michael was a friend and former team-mate of Steve McManaman and would have been envious of him winning two Champions Leagues with Madrid.
"He was also someone who would have enjoyed the challenge of playing not just for arguably the biggest club in the world, but also the challenge of a new culture and learning a new language.
"We sometimes think in this country that the Premier League is the only competition in the world, but it's not. You only need to look at the lack of representation in the Champions League quarter finals this season to realise that."
Houghton believes Owen showed he still had the appetite for the game by his desire to keep coming back from injury, but probably realised at Stoke that his career was in danger of going off the tracks.
"I wonder if last Saturday was the final straw for Michael," he added. "Stoke were struggling with just one league win in 2013 and the pressure was on boss Tony Pulis.
"When it was goalless near the end and the game was just crying out for the Michael Owen of old to grab it by the neck, Pulis would have looked around and wondered he could trust to get that goal.
"The fact that he didn't pick Michael must have told its own story. I don't know if he had made his decision to retire before it, but, even if he did, he probably had it confirmed at that moment that his time is nigh."