These are difficult times for Michael Owen. The bench he has resided on for so long he has broken world records for splinters, is no longer available. Manchester United have decided that there is no future to be had for a player rarely needed outside the Carling Cup, so for Owen it’s time to devise a new brochure and get out there and sell himself. But to who?
The problem with Owen is he appears to be holding onto his past. In his mind, he is still the pacy, dynamic forward who scores goals by the bagful. He thinks he can still do a job at the top level, and no doubt he expects wages to match. Hey, there’s even those in the media (it’s Ollie Holt) who thinks he can do a job for England, and bemoan his constant exclusion from the squad. At least he’d be fresh.
Owen’s attitude baffles me. He has stated clearly in the past that he would rather play occasionally and win medals at a top side than play regular football for an “average” side. He says he has done that before and didn’t like it (who on earth could he be referring to?!). But how can he take any pride in his Manchester United medals when he contributed so little to them? I don’t want to sound unduly harsh, but aren’t they pretty worthless? When he looks back on his career, will he not feel a tinge of regret at so many wasted years? And what is more, if he did play regular football at a slightly lower level, would it not increase his chances of an England recall? I can see few downsides to him lowering his sights. At United, apart from the last-gasp winner in the 4-3 Manchester Derby, I can think of little other highlights. Before the recent Manchester Derby, he was quoted pleading to Alex Ferguson for a chance to shoot down City. There was more chance of Dmitar Berbatov starting, or me for that matter.
Owen has to face the facts. He isn’t the player he once was. Those days have gone. He is injury-prone, and those injuries have had a bad effect on his body, none more so in removing a yard of pace.
Owen said this week: “If you look at my record, almost every time I played for United, even though a lot of the games were in the Carling Cup, I scored. So I don’t feel I have lost the ability to score goals or play at a high level.”
The facts are these: Owen scored a total of 17 goals for Manchester United in his three seasons. Five were in the Premier League. A further seven were against lower league teams in domestic cups, and the rest were in Europe. The last of those European goals came in December 2009. The last time he scored against a Premier League team was in September 2010. The statistics do not paint a good picture.
I could think of a few teams where it makes sense for Owen to play. To pick a team at random – West Brom. He could prosper at The Hawthorns, and be playing regular Premiership football. West Brom get a once-seasoned performer who has fallen on hard times, but on a free transfer, which would cover the significant wages or signing-on fee. The game is littered with success stories from teams like this that cannot go out and splash the cash that have taken a gamble on a fallen star, and made it work. An obvious club to make an approach would be one of the promoted clubs – what odds on Sam Allardyce expressing an interest soon?
What works in Owen’s favour is that there are plenty of clubs, and chairmen, that use little common sense or rationale when making signings. If QPR were to sack Joey Barton for misconduct, you could bet your bottom dollar that someone would snap him up in no time, even with a 3 month suspension to serve, and a charge sheet as long as Peter Crouch’s arm. Likewise, there will probably be a good side willing to take a punt on Owen, despite years of inactivity – the question is, will his self-delusion decide they aren’t up to his standard? Presuming that he didn’t consider Newcastle at an appropriate level for his services (and he sure took some persuading), then what level is he expecting? Or will he finally see sense? Times change – after all, it would be him begging to Newcastle to take him on nowadays.
Owen is 32 years old now. He has the chance for one last hurrah, to make his mark at one club before he retires. For his sake, let’s hope he makes an educated decision. Let’s hope he sees out his career having played a couple of seasons of competitive football, so that he leaves more of a legacy than that of a man whose explosive career petered out after injuries took their toll. He still has the chance to make his mark. Forget looking at medals he made no contribution to earning – instead enjoy a video reel of a player scoring goals galore once more, and seeing out his career with a smile on his face.