Having burst onto the scene with his fleet footed pace and eye for goal, Michael Owen was once the darling of British football but his reputation has plummeted from a man capable of breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s England goal scoring record to an injury prone bench warmer devoid of inspiration.
For a star who earned his place in national team folklore with a glorious solo goal against Argentina at 1998 World Cup, it was unthinkable that the striker’s prolific career would be defined, not by his goal scoring form, but by his inability to complete ninety minutes on a regular basis. Unfortunately the latter is looking more and more likely and having been released by Manchester United after his contract expired this summer, is there any scope for one last swansong from Michael Owen?
At the not so tender age of 32, Owen still has time on his side and although his ability to find the back of the net has never been questioned, injuries have often held him back so his motivation must be rekindled. During the early parts of his career, when he was an aspiring young forward, he was driven to achieve great things but after so many stop start seasons, Owen must now prove his still has the same eagerness to train hard in order to play consistently.
It’s strange that someone so talented would need to justify themselves but his decision to join the Red Devils called his mentality into question as many felt he was opting for one last pay day rather than looking for regular first team action. Having claimed the only Premier League winner’s medal of his career, Owen may beg to differ but he only played 31 times in 3 seasons at Old Trafford and was never deemed first choice. His 5 league goals were few a far between and despite scoring a later winner in the Manchester derby, a goal Owen insists was one of the most important in his career, he never showed Sir Alex Ferguson enough consistency to warrant selection ahead of their other high profile forwards. The Michael Owen brand should’ve been strong having played for Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle United as well as England but he seemed to accept his position as a backup in Manchester.
On reflection his Anfield departure was the beginning of the end for his career as the 2001 Ballon D’or winner was once one of Europe’s hottest properties having scored 158 goals in 297 appearances for Liverpool. A brief spell in La Liga was underwhelming as Owen failed to find his place among Real Madrid’s galacticos but he still scored goals when given the opportunity and his reputation didn’t suffer too much until he returned home to join Newcastle. Having been expected to form a dangerous partnership with Toon Army legend Alan Shearer, Owen instead embarked on four injury hit seasons in the North East. During that time he also suffered a horrific ligament injury when playing for England at 2006 World Cup and only managed 30 goals during his time at St James Park. His eventual departure on a free transfer represented a massive loss on £16.8m Newcastle reportedly spent on the forward but it was his chance to start a new chapter in his career having stuttered since leaving Liverpool.
Unfortunately it was a case of same old, same old for Owen in Manchester and now he leaves another top Premier League as a free agent with an injury prone tag hanging over his head. Many strikers play on way past 35 so logically Owen could still have at least 3-4 years of playing in the top flight but will his pride let him join one the Premier League’s mid table pack or worse?
He’s been linked with moves to Stoke City, QPR, West Ham, West Brom and even former rivals Sunderland to name but a few, yet none of these teams represent a particularly attractive challenge for a player who seems more intent training with horses than with his team mates every day. Not only would he have to accept that a top ten finish may be the best his potential new side can achieve, Owen’s other problem is his game must change if he is to evolve. The poachers instinct he once possessed is still there but he doesn’t have the same pace to run in behind defenders. Like Thierry Henry, Owen must learn a more withdrawn role to become more involved in the build up but one of the main criticisms aimed at the striker, aside from his injuries, is his inability to link up play between the midfield and attack. If he can’t play deep and he can’t run in behind then Owen is stuck in no man’s land with no team willing to risk his fitness when they’re unsure of what he actually brings to the side.
Chances are Owen is never going to repeat his early career success and will probably never play for England again. In reality, his injury problems will not recede either but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. There can be a certain satisfaction in helping a side into the top ten or leading them to promotion from the Championship and if Owen is willing to go back to square one then he could be a fantastic addition to a number of clubs looking for bargain basement firepower this summer.
Would you be happy if your club signed Michael Owen? Do you believe Owen can still cut it at the highest level?
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