Michael Owen: Don't Expect Much from Striker's Stoke Comeback
Many have questioned the wisdom of Stoke City signing Michael Owen on a permanent contract following the striker's release from Manchester United, and there is plenty of cause to ask why it has happened.
Little more than a decade ago, Owen was Liverpool and England's lead striker. He was a superstar, banging the goals in for fun for both club and country. He was the first English player to win the Ballon d'Or since Kevin Keegan. He had it all.
Now, three months from his 33rd birthday, he is looking back on a career unfulfilled and a disappointing medal collection due to a combination of bad injuries and poor decision-making.
You would think that there would be plenty of sympathy for the former golden boy of English football, but his recent listing in a blog called "The 100 Worst People On Twitter" is a harsh sign of how his stock has plummeted.
Sadly for Owen, the chances of his career reaching one final high point, at a club which he freely admitted he chose because it is in the Premier League and close to his house, are slim.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis has signed Owen in the hope of him rekindling his once reasonably prodigious international partnership with Peter Crouch. It's the classic "little and large" partnership in which many in England hold plenty of stock despite there being very few examples of extremely tall and extremely short strikers becoming lethal pairings.
Even when Owen's hamstrings become so damaged that he forever lost that searing pace of his teens and early 20s, he retained his natural goal-scoring instincts.
That intelligent movement and knack for being in the right position could get him a few goals for the Potters, as opposition defences struggle to deal with the aerial bombardment. But it is not enough to be a Stoke forward to just be able to second-guess where the ball is going to ping around the box next.
Every attacker has to work in a red and white shirt, pressing defenders and goalkeepers and dropping deep to pack the midfield whenever Stoke do not have the ball.
There is no room for luxury players at the Britannia Stadium. That is why the burly Jonathan Walters has thrived at the Staffordshire club, while the infinitely more talented Tuncay Sanli hardly ever saw the light of day during his ill-fated spell.
Owen may have far more aerial ability than most forwards who stand at 5'8", but he will not be able to hold up a big goal-kick from Asmir Begovic with his back to goal or out-muscle many defenders as another long punt up the field from Robert Huth is shielded out of play.
As much as Owen vehemently claims to the contrary, his fitness will forever be an issue. His advancing years, Stoke's physical style and the fact he has missed an entire preseason all significantly increase the chances of him seeing a brand new treatment table sooner rather than later.
Can Pulis afford to gamble on another injury-prone striker when he already has Mamady Sidibe on his books? Especially when Owen has scored as many league goals as the stricken Mali striker since the start of last season? (Clue: It's a big round number.)
It wasn't always this way, of course. Owen scored 119 league goals in his seven full seasons at Liverpool, where his late brace also sealed the FA Cup triumph over Arsenal, which formed part of the club's "Plastic Treble" in 2001.
His lone season at Real Madrid has been largely written off as a failure, but among his 13 La Liga goals were a few important ones and even one in a Clasico.
Even his four years at Newcastle, which seemed to have him injured more than ever and ended in the club's relegation, yielded a goals-to-games ratio better than one in three.
But it was his three-year spell at Old Trafford which saw any vestige of potential left in his reputation all but rubbed out. When Mame Biram Diouf was getting off the bench for the few minutes of dead cup ties ahead of Owen, the jig was truly up.
The prospect of Owen even getting back to being half the player he once was is a truly exciting one, both on a footballing level and on a personal one for a player who has hardly ever been anything less than a consummate professional.
But Pulis has been ruthless with big-name and expensive signings before. The honeymoon period with him is very short.
If Owen doesn't impress early on, then the relationship could become irretrievable, and he could see out his playing days on the Stoke bench wondering what might have been.
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