From Liverpool to possible football oblivion…time for a reality check?

Michael Owen

The writing has perhaps been on the wall for Michael Owen for quite some time now, but even as the end of his career edges ever nearer, there is something deafening about the silence that seems to be surrounding his final stint as a professional footballer.

With the news that Stoke City are set to release the former-England striker at the end of the season, while the man himself would be loathsome to publically admit it, the walls are slowly beginning to close in on the 33-year-old’s career.

Having previously stated a reluctance to try and prolong his career in The Championship and beyond, his options are looking incredibly thin indeed should he have designs on playing for another season. With the close proximity of Stoke to both his family as well as his business interests said to have been a feature in his decision to move to initially move to the Britannia, you would imagine another stint abroad may not be on the cards.

But after the season he’s currently endured under Tony Pulis –in which he’s failed to make a single Premier League start – if the Premier League is the only option, then it could well be game over for Owen’s career.

Should this be the end of the road for him after this season’s finale, it will represent a relatively meek finish for a player whose career has produced such extraordinary highs. And although that may seem disappointing, Owen wouldn’t be the first and nor will he be the last talented professional to go out on a whim.

After all, his burgeoning medal count certainly proves a poignant reference point should some need reminding of his achievements within the game. Not everyone gets the opportunity to go out on the top.

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Yet there’s been something telling within Owen’s recent need to remind us all about how good he once was, that paints a very succinct picture about the luke-warm level of goodwill that he’s been afforded by supporters in recent years.

“I shook the world in my day.”

That was how Michael Owen recently described his own playing career in answer to a cheeky enquiry as to whether he plays football these days. And in shelving the slightly acrimonious, “What have you done in life?” part of his reply for a moment, there’s very little to argue with about his initial self-proclamation. In his day, Owen was simply brilliant.

Regardless for how relatively short the duration of his greatness may have been, there is simply nothing to argue with when it comes to weighing up the one time-Real Madrid man’s resume. The 150 Premier League goals and counting, the Ballon d’Or won in 2001 and that hat-trick against Germany in 2001; for as disappointing as it was that his star was unable to shine for a longer duration, when it did shine, few have done so brighter.

Few Englishman have scored in four major tournaments and even fewer have notched a goal in an El Clasico. With 40 goals for his country, he’s one of England’s greatest ever goalscorers. Taking all of the above into consideration, the absence of fanfare that surrounds his possible exit from the game seems startling.

But if the first half of his career was illuminated by an ability that few had seen from an English striker in several decades, then the latter has been underpinned by a simmering feeling of both suspicion and disappointment by the wider footballing public.  And although injuries have played a domineering part in that process, Owen’s oddly subdued public standing for a player of his achievements owes more to it than simply a fragile body.

If there is any lingering of dislike towards Owen, it certainly doesn’t stem from any perceivably negative trait of his persona, in the mould of the John Terrys, Rio Ferdinands or Wayne Rooneys of this world. In interviews, the 33-year-old comes across as an articulate, humble and mild-mannered gentleman. A brief look into the window of his personal life and Owen strikes you as a family man, bereft of the vulgar displays of wealth that can be found in many of today’s footballers.

Although from a professional standpoint, Owen hasn’t often always come across as the most likeable footballer to come out of these shores. His decision to leave Newcastle United on a free transfer after costing the club nearly £39million in wages and transfer fees hardly struck you as a showing of loyalty given his paltry contribution during his time at St. James’ Park.

But it was within his decision to move to Manchester United, which really rankled with fans. And for the wider majority, it had nothing to do with his past Liverpool connections.

Nothing Owen says will ever paper over the school of thought that at only 29-years-old, with plenty still to offer to any club in the country, he chose to sit on the bench and enjoy glory from the vaguest of peripheries, rather than actually try to add to what he achieved in the first part of his career.

Moving to United effectively slayed the notion of him bestowing ambition and the continued insistence that he’d rather be playing on the fringes at Old Trafford than regularly for a smaller-club goes against the grain of the mindset of a great player – after all, that’s what he likes us to remind us that he is, isn’t it?

Is Owen in denial about the truth of his own career? In the same way he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t being picked for England after barely playing for Manchester United or his refusal to accept that the label ‘injury-prone’, any insecurities Michael Owen may have upon his own career are of his own inability to see the bigger picture.