When Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge for the Champions League Quarter Final with Chelsea on Wednesday night, Sir Alex Ferguson’s bench is likely to be warmed by a man with forty England goals to his name. A striker who has experienced Champions League football with three different clubs and scored thirteen goals in forty-two appearances for the club. However, Michael Owen currently finds himself fourth in the Old Trafford pecking order and, with Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck scheduled to return to the club next season, there are question marks over his future at the club.
Admittedly few predicted how the season would pan out for Manchester United’s strike force. Wayne Rooney has had an indifferent time following his 26 League goals last year whilst who could have anticipated Dimitar Berbatov’s rise as the club’s top marksman? Ferguson himself has been surprised by the impact of Javier Hernandez and Owen has found opportunities limited. So what next for the greatest England striker of his generation?
Admittedly Owen’s best days are behind him. Having severely struggled with injuries in recent years he has lost that blistering pace that used to terrorise defences and first came to the world’s attention at the 1998 World Cup. Whilst he still retains that predatory instinct and is an intelligent player, his days of leading the line for a top European club are over. That isn’t to say he does not play an important role at Man United, however. He is extremely popular among fans having scored some important goals such as the winner in 2009 home derby against Manchester City. And, with young strikers such as Chicharito, Welbeck, Macheda and even Bebe rising through the ranks, Sir Alex will see his vast experience as a great asset to the squad.
But, this is a striker who surely owes it to himself to be playing regular first team football. England’s fourth highest all-time goal scorer has only recently turned 31; by comparison Alan Shearer retired at 35, scoring ten goals in thirty-two league appearances in his final season.
Perhaps Owen has lost the ambition to play? Admittedly the opportunity to serve under Sir Alex Ferguson for a successful team must be high on many players’ agendas but should not get in the way of a striker’s desire to start games and score goals. And, whilst a different type of player to Shearer, Owen is still a much better player now than many other so-called ‘top flight’ strikers.
If, and this is a big if, Owen can put his recent injury problems behind him then he definitely owes it to himself to find a new club this summer where he can play regular football. Whilst he would more than likely have to take a pay cut and move to a smaller club, surely it would be better than warming the bench at Man Utd if he still has hunger for the game. Perhaps he could draw inspiration from Kevin Philips who, at the age of 37, is still scoring goals in the Premier League. Admittedly his England days are behind him and Fabio Capello must now plan for the future. But, if he really has lost the ambition to play week-in, week-out and his body is past it then he should look to stay at Manchester United as fourth-choice striker and continue to coast into semi-retirement.
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