Last week it was announced that Michael Owen has been ruled out for the rest of the season and the World Cup because of a hamstring injury sustained in the Carling Cup final against Aston Villa. This latest setback for Owen raises the question: should his career be regarded as a flop considering the potential and hype surrounding the United striker when he burst onto the international scene as an 18 year old, scoring that goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. And when did Owen’s decline begin: was it the moment he left Liverpool and joined the Galacticos at Real Madrid?
Owen scored 158 goals in 297 games in 8 years at Anfield, and had “untouchable” status on Merseyside, idolised by the fans and a riot would ensue if he was sold, much like the status Steven Gerrard enjoys now. He was England’s star striker, becoming the youngest player to score for his country and setting a record of scoring in four major tournaments for England. Owen was also prolific for Liverpool, he was the top scorer each season for Liverpool when he was at the club and won the European Footballer of the Year Award in 2001.
But injuries and the sacking of Gerard Houllier saw Owen sold to Real Madrid for £8 million in 2004. The striker did well in Spain, scoring 13 goals in La Liga in his sole season with the club, but he was mostly on the bench and unable to secure regular first-team football. A disastrous spell at Newcastle followed, before Sir Alex Ferguson snapped up the former England international last summer on a free transfer.
The main factor which has caused Owen’s downfall are the constant injuries. There was the hamstring injury that dogged his later years at Liverpool, the broken metatarsal bone in his foot at Newcastle, and the anterior cruciate ligament injury he sustained for England at the 2006 World Cup, which caused Owen to miss a whole year through injury. These injuries have robbed Owen of his blistering pace that he possessed in his youth, which was his main weapon in his first few years for Liverpool in England. Owen is too small to be a target man and has had to rely on his poaching instincts to score, which was evident in his goal against Villa in the Carling Cup Final.
I will give Owen credit that he has done well at United this season, considering there wasn’t much expectations on him to begin with and he arrived on a free transfer. This season, Owen has scored 9 goals for United, starting 11 games and making 20 appearances as a substitute. There was the injury time goal that won the Manchester derby and the hat-trick in the Champions League against Wolfsburg, that justifies bringing Owen to Old Trafford in itself.
Sir Alex has said that Owen still has a future at Old Trafford despite this latest injury, and the striker probably wasn’t going to make Fabio Capello’s England squad for the World Cup anyway, having been in the international wilderness for the last couple of years. Also, Owen has never really developed a good chemistry with Wayne Rooney for England, always underperforming on the major occasions in recent times.
But the fact that Owen is only 30 means that he should still be at his peak as a world-class striker, instead he has struggled to excel for the last few years. I believe that Owen has failed to live up to all the hype and the promise heaped on him after the World Cup in 1998. His career nosedived after he left Liverpool and the constant injuries robbed him of his best asset: his pace, which contributed to his steep decline.
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