The Sad Truth for Michael Owen
Michael Owen has achieved a huge amount since he burst onto the scene as a wonder kid at the 1998 World Cup.
That was a seminal moment in football history for every England fan. I still have the image of Owen picking the ball up on the halfway line, with seemingly nothing on, seared in my brain. What followed will never leave me.
His goal against Argentina was one of the most exhilarating I have ever witnessed. He glided beyond the brutal, savage, and unflappable Roberto Ayala as though he wasn't there, before calmly placing the ball into the far top corner, beyond the on-rushing Carlos Roa.
Owen scored a phenomenal 118 goals in 193 games for Liverpool before making a largely hapless move to Real Madrid. Though he netted 13 times in 20 appearances, 15 of which came as substitute, he never managed to win over manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo.
And so Owen returned to England, in what has been a disastrous move to Newcastle United. He has missed the majority of his spell with the Toon Army through injury.
This summer will mark the fourth anniversary since his signing. In that time he has made just 64 starts—an average of just 16 a season.
That hardly represents good value on a transfer fee that was reported to be around £17 million from Real Madrid and wages which infamously top the £100,000 a week mark.
Still, his goalscoring record for the Toon Army is respectable, notching 30 goals in his total of 77 appearances, not far off the one in two mark.
Unfortunately, as he creeps towards the 30th birthday he will celebrate at the end of this year, the sad truth is his best days are long behind him.
Gone is the blistering pace he once exhibited and his touch is often wayward. There is no doubting that the striker's instinct remains, but is that enough?
With his club in the relegation zone, it is worth asking what will become of Owen if they do get relegated.
Is it likely that any of the so-called "Big Four" would sign the striker? Not a chance.
Manchester United boast an attacking force so potent that Carlos Tevez, a first-choice Argentine international, looks set to move this summer in a bid for regular football.
Moreover, he doesn't possess the touch or technique to fit into the United team. The same can be said of Arsenal, whose free-flowing, keep the ball at all costs brand of the beautiful game would be disrupted by the frankly awkward Michael Owen of 2009.
Chelsea are set up for big, quick, and powerful strikers, and Liverpool opt for a 4-5-1 centred around Torres. Robbie Keane couldn't find a way in and Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel have been forced to occupy wide roles, why would they change things for Owen?
Beyond the strength of the Premier League's elite is Owen's age and fragility. The little lad from Cheshire was injury prone even in his youth, regularly suffering injuries in his early days with Liverpool. Now he cannot go two or three months without some kind of setback.
On top of this is his wages. Why would a top club agree to pay between £5-6 million a year to a player who is unlikely to play even 20 games?
The sad truth for Owen is he will never return to the big time. If Newcastle do go down, the best he could hope for is a move to either Spurs or Manchester City, and a probable pay cut.
It's unlikely he will ever return to the Champions League and there is growing doubt that we will see him in an England shirt again.
Once upon a time it was an accepted inevitability that Owen would break Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals, now he may have to make do with third place in the all-time list, with his haul of 40 goals.
I doubt we will see him in South Africa for the World Cup next year and, if we don't, he'll not play in another major championship.
So, the sad truth for Michael Owen is that, at 29 years of age, his career with the elite of world football is finished, his days in the Champions League are over, and he'll never represent England in another major tournament.
No-one can take away that strike in St Etienne 11 years ago, yet, at 29, I can't help but feel Owen should have much to look forward to, instead of reflecting on his glorious past.
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