With rumours resurfacing that Michael Owen looks all but set to depart from Old Trafford in the summer after his latest injury setback, it begs the question, has the former Liverpool player’s move to bitter rivals Man Utd been one of the most short-sighted, worst thought-out transfers in recent memory?
Now this article isn’t concerned with the expectations that Man Utd fans may have had upon signing Owen. For his 96th minute winner in the Manchester Derby alone, he’s ensured that he’s been worth all the bother. No, it’s simply more to do with the expectation, or relative lack thereof, that Owen has for himself nowadays as the extent that his own personal drive and ambition can be called into question.
Since crossing the bitter divide, Owen has featured in 42 games for Man Utd across all competitions spread over two seasons, but just 15 of these have come as a starter, with just 6 of those starts coming in the league. Surely at just 31 years of age, it’s too early for Owen to be content with a life of semi-retirement on the Man Utd bench?
He was signed by Man Utd to add both experience and strength in depth to the forward line. Form the clubs point of view, they have more than got their worth out of the Owen deal, especially considering that he arrived on a free transfer. But with just 15 starts across all competitions in nearly two seasons, it’s clear that Owen is on the end of a raw deal and he is now quite comfortably the club’s fourth-choice striker behind Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez – a situation that shows no signs of changing any time soon.
If you analyse the club’s results when Owen has been in the side and where his starts have come from and it becomes abundantly clear that he was never destined to figure too dominantly in Ferguson’s plans. Starts last season came against the likes of Burnley, Bolton, Wolves, Hull and Fulham and only serve to highlight the calibre of side that he was brought in to play against. His four starts this season have come against Chelsea in the Community Shield, Scunthorpe in the Carling Cup, Southampton in the FA Cup and Sunderland in the Premier League, a game in which he was withdrawn at half-time – hardly big fixtures for the club and they show Owen’s lack of importance to the first-team.
Owen arrived at the club full of vigour, seemingly certain that as he entered the autumn seasons of his career, that he would be able to rekindle any international ambitions that he may still have harboured, while at the same time becoming a pivotal member in Man Utd’s assault on the league, sadly though, this has not turned out to be the case and he has been reduced to a role on the periphery.
You’d certainly think that for a player, who was undoubtedly the best British striker of his generation, that with opportunities severely limited at Old Trafford, that he‘d at least consider a move to a club slightly further down the league in an attempt to secure more first-team football. Well you would be wrong.
Back in October, Owen seemingly ruled out moving to any perceived ‘smaller club’ when questioned on what he’d do if he wasn’t offered a new deal at Man Utd stating that “I don’t feel my game is ideally suited to a team that is struggling. Whether I want to be dropping down to a poorer Premier League team, I don’t know. But I won’t be dropping down leagues.” Whether this is either arrogant or simply just an acknowledgment of his own limitations I‘ll leave that for you decide, but to narrow your options so severely seems a tad rash in my view.
Talk has been rife that Owen may even retire from football at the end of this campaign, perhaps with a Premier League winner’s medal in tow, such is his disillusionment with the situation he currently finds himself in – which if it turned out to be the case, would be a monumental waste of his predatory talents. He genuinely still has something to offer. The intelligence that he showed in his short stinit as a withdrawn forward in Kevin Keegan’s three-pronged attack at Newcastle only shows that Owen has a lot more to his game these days than people give him credit for.
Injuries have played their part during his time at Man Utd, as they have done throughout his career, but his choice to join Utd, while entirely understandable at the time, may come back to haunt him. You could even go as far as to question the wisdom of Owen’s respective moves throughout his club career.
Should he leave Man Utd in the summer, an increasingly likely possibility now, Owen’s time at Old Trafford will not be regarded as a bad piece of business from anyone involved at the club, but for Owen, from a personal perspective, it has gone poorly. The move intended to revitalise his England career all but ended it.
Owen’s performance in the Carling Cup final last season was a microcosm of his career to date thus far and with it, his time at Utd too. Practically anonymous until the 12th minute, whereupon racing onto a through ball, Owen finished with aplomb. He left the field injured just half an hour after scoring with a hamstring injury – a defect that has plagued him throughout his entire career. He cut a frustrated figure, and one does feel a degree of sympathy for a player unable to play to the best of his ability for the majority of his career.
The fact remains, when all sentiment is put aside and feelings of betrayal begin to subside on the part of Liverpool fans, Owen will be regarded as a great international player, but rather oddly, a player that never fully realised his true potential at club level.
His move to Man Utd may have paid off for the club, albeit in a stop-gap capacity, where his tally of 9 goals across all competitions last season more than justified his acquisition. However, from the player’s perspective, the move has prompted little more than the onset of premature retirement and his decision to join Man Utd can be said to have been most unwise and short-term in it’s vision on Owen’s part.
The likes of Everton and Aston Villa are said to be interested in pursuing Owen in the summer, but such is the unpredictability of Owen’s club career to date, that any such rumours should be treated with a degree of suspicion. Owen has previous form when it comes to surprisingly ill-thought out transfers, and as the former England striker enters a fork in the road; a crossroads in his career, he will have to ask himself just how much desire and personal ambition that he still retains – if he continues to play fourth-fiddle at Old Trafford for a further season, therein lies your answer.
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