The Curious Case of Michael Owen

The reaction to Michael Owen’s match-winning performance against Leeds in their 3-0 Carling Cup victory at Elland Road has, shall we say, gone a touch overboard. The inevitability of the calls for an England recall on the back of a goalscoring display against a deeply average Championship outfit are so far off the mark that it’s embarrassing.

Owen has made his decision to be a bit-part player at a big club as opposed to a regular for a smaller team. He still retains that trademark deft finish, a sprightly turn of pace coupled with the ability to time his runs to perfection. He is still a perfectly serviceable Premier League standard striker who probably has a good few years left in the tank in the top flight.

However, the reaction from the media after his goalscoring exploits against Leeds is quite frankly ridiculous. The Daily Mirror’s Oliver Holt tweeted: “if another manager was in charge, MO would still be in the England squad but Capello has always ignored him. That’s his loss and sadly it’s ours too.”

The equally revered Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph also tweeted: “Capello always dismissive when we badger him about @themichaelowen. Pity. Owen would be a great wild-card for #eng at Euros. #1on1s#pens.”

Setting aside the quite baffling point that two goals against a Championship side suddenly qualifies you for a squad place in arguably the most difficult international tournament going, how can you extol the virtues of a man that’s played just 228 minutes of Premier League football since February 2010.

He has started just 12 games in 25 months. The quality of opposition that he’s played against in that time has hardly been the most competitive. He’s seemingly content to be a part-time footballer trading on past glories.

How could Capello possibly justify playing someone that’s fifth choice for their club over people playing every week for other sides? This dream scenario often concocted in favour of Owen’s inclusion in the England squad is about as likely as me winning a Pulitzer for this article. To put it another way, if he’s tailor-made for this one situation; a one-on-one with the goalkeeper with five minutes left on the clock, with the scores tied, what use is there for him during the rest of the team’s games? Something tells me messrs Holt and Winter need to stop watching those reruns of Space Jam and Escape to Victory, for their misplaced support just isn’t based in anything close to what most would term, ‘reality‘.

When it’s evident that his current manager retains so little faith in his abilities to damage teams on a consistent enough basis, why do some persist with championing his selection?

Owen stated after the Leeds match: “I’m not content if I’m not playing. I get criticised a lot with things like ‘you don’t play, you pick your money up’ and all the rest of it but I’m not proud of that fact. I want to play all the time.” Well, Michael, the solution is simple, move clubs if you have any semblance of self-worth remaining.

Even his manager Sir Alex Ferguson said after the fixture: “His goal ratio is unbelievable. We are very pleased with him. He has had one or two injuries but with me having Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez, he is not getting the games he deserves and that is unfortunate.” That is not even to mention the recent emergence of Danny Welbeck as a first-team fixture. His manager has publicly stated that he’s, at best, the clubs fourth-choice striker.

From Man Utd’s and Ferguson’s point of view, they’re perfectly content to have such a handy striker left in reserve. The club’s strength in depth now really is quite astonishing.

But from Owen’s point of view, given that he’s realistically destined to never be more than a back-up option, why is he so content to play fifth-fiddle? For a player of his quality, prestige and reputation his lack of personal ambition is galling.

He may pick up the odd piece of silverware while at Man Utd, but his own personal contribution to such feats should mean he feels nothing more than pure embarrassment at his lack of involvement – much like Shane Warne’s now infamous OBE dig at Paul Collingwood for scoring just 4 runs in the 2005 Ashes series.

Owen used to be one of the best strikers in Europe. He could still potentially have a large part to play for a Premier League side around the middle-to upper reaches of the league. But no. To quote the man himself: “I believe I’ve got a few years left in me and I’d love it to be at Man United. As we stand now, we’ve been playing four or five weeks of the season. We’ve only had one game a week so he hasn’t rotated anyone really. You could count all the players out there today and not many of them have had much action so hopefully now the season is underway and we’re playing twice a week, the whole squad and not just me will get more of a chance.” A quite simply astounding lack of self-awareness.

He’s accepted his fate as a part-time footballer, now it’s time that we did the same. The rather misguided calls for an England return among some sections of the media are laughable to say the least. Owen doesn’t deserve our sympathy any longer, he deserves our pity.

You can follow me on Twitter at – http://twitter.com/#!/JamesMcManus1

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