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“Roy Evans had called”: Ex-Sweden striker reveals how his injury meant Liverpool gave Michael Owen his big break

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Mathias Svensson reveals how close he came to joining Liverpool, but they gave the chance to Michael Owen instead

Mathias Svensson is a name familiar to football fans in Sweden, and those who watched English football in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Now 47 and retired, Svensson had an impressive career where he played for teams such as Portsmouth, Derby County, and Charlton Athletic amongst others- but if things had worked out, he could have been a player for Liverpool.

With 74 Premier League appearances and three caps for Sweden, the 1.86m tall striker came close to joining the Reds under Roy Evans. Terry Venables, who was the then England manager, informed Svensson of Liverpool’s interest around March 1997.

Ruben Baraja of Valencia challenges Mathias Svensson of Elfsborg during the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
Ruben Baraja of Valencia challenges Mathias Svensson of Elfsborg during the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

The Swedish star, who was 22 at that time, had joined Portsmouth in the summer of 1996. This was akin to a dream coming true, as Svensson claims that he has supported LFC since he was a kid (h/t The News).

“He told me: “I have some news for you. Liverpool are going to put an offer in for you”. Well that’s my team. Wow. It turned out that Roy Evans had called him and wanted to watch me in our next match before putting an offer in.”

But fate did not side with the young forward, who suffered from an injury in training. That meant Evans never came to watch Svensson and the Reds gave the then 17-year-old Michael Owen his big break towards the end of the 1996/97 season.

“As bad luck would have it, I injured my foot in training in the build up, so couldn’t play in that match after all. Roy Evans never came to watch me. That was when Liverpool took the decision to take Michael Owen from the youth team for the final three games of the season and he scored on his debut against Wimbledon. They probably made the right decision anyway”

Mathias Svensson reveals how close he came to joining Liverpool, but they gave the chance to Michael Owen instead
Mathias Svenson of Derby scores his goal against Watford in September 2003. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Cruel fate

It would have been a good call to have Svensson in the team back then. He was making waves at Fratton Park and was still young. The Reds had a mean attack as well.

Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore, and John Barnes wreaked havoc for the Reds week in, week out. But they lacked an understudy for their main man up front- which ultimately turned out to be Michael Owen.

Had Svensson joined us some 25 years ago, perhaps Owen would have had to wait for his big break. But make no mistake, there was no way Liverpool would have not given the Englishman a chance.

Those who watched Owen, the only Liverpool player to have won the Ballon d’Or, play as a youngster, would instantly draw comparisons to the great Ronaldo Nazario of Brazil- the pace, the finishing- he was a nightmare for defenders.

Michael Owen of Liverpool being challenged by Martin Keown of Arsenal. Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport

Unfortunately, neither he nor Svensson really fulfilled the potential they showed during their early years. Owen, of course, had a better career- having won a number of trophies and playing for the likes of Real Madrid, Newcastle United, and Manchester United.

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Svensson, meanwhile, managed to win the Football League First Division title in the 2003/04 season with Norwich City and the Allsvenskan with IF Elfsborg in 2006.