When asked about whether Michael Owen would be included in his latest England squad, Fabio Capello gave a revealing response about why Owen wouldn’t be included. Capello stated that “It is not enough only to score goals. It is very important but sometimes one player has not played for 89 minutes and he scores a goal, it is not enough. The goals are very important but it is not only the goals."
This response I have to admit startled me, for in English football to merely consider dropping Michael Owen from an England squad a couple of years ago would have been thought as unlikely and inconceivable as the Labour party now winning the next election.
Yet now we find he is out of the squad, a man with 40 international goals to his name and one of the finest goalscoring records in the world. But this latest exclusion is not simply Owen’s own fault, in fact it is as much down to the modern game—there simply seems to be no room for a good goalscorer.
Now before people begin to question my judgement, I’d just like to reflect on what I mean by a goalscorer. I don’t mean a traditional No. 9, a battering ram of a centre forward who’ll bully defences—like for instance a Didier Drogba or an Emmanuel Adebayor. Or the lightning fast, creative types who will terrorise defences with their pace and dribbling like say a Thierry Henry or Jermain Defoe.
No, I mean those strikers whose game is built around the six yard box, whose sole job is to finish those chances that others create, rather than mess around at the half way line helping out with the team play, or standing with their back to goal, fighting to hold the ball up for others to use.
If you look at the modern game of football now, you find that the art of goalscoring seems to be increasingly going out of fashion. In Britain we have in the past specialised in goalscoring predators—Gary Lineker and Ian Rush are two such examples. These are guys who did little work outside the box yet were prolific inside it and are rightly remembered as two of the top strikers to have been born in the British Isles.
Michael Owen now, is very much of a similar ilk to those two. He lacks the pace and dynamism of his youth, where he could accelerate away from defenders and threaten with his dribbling—like the Argentina goal—as age and injuries have taken their toll. Now Owen specialises simply on being at the end of moves, on being in the right place at the right time and positioning himself to snap up the chances presented his way.
Unfortunately for Owen, football in the modern era seems to frown upon these sorts of players. In an era where tactics count for everything, every player must contribute to the overall team play.
Therefore a striker either has to do one of two things in addition to scoring. Firstly, they either drop back and become involved in supporting the play or secondly, hold the ball up and bring others into the game.
Though Owen does play in a slightly withdrawn role for Newcastle, it is only because he has two players up front playing with him, for England he wouldn’t have that luxury. If Owen were to be selected for England it’d be in a spearhead role, either stretching the play with pace or holding the ball up for others, two requirements that Owen no longer fulfils and is indeed ill-suited to.
Owen needs the play to present him chances, he needs the play to be built to suit him.
Sadly, if you look around the modern game, quality goalscoring predators like Owen no longer seem to be around.
If you look at the top leagues, strikers can be divided into two categories, they are either used as battering rams, providing space for goalscoring midfielders to prosper. Marco Borriello at Milan is a prime example of this, creating space for Kaka and Ronaldinho.
Or the strikers themselves are pace players who are capable of picking the ball up from deep and running at defenders, or using their skills to bring others into play—in the manner of Wayne Rooney or say David Villa.
Strikers these days are judged on more than just goals and sadly for the goalscoring predators like Owen, that means that the days when players like himself were a necessity for every team is sadly coming to an end. They are now an ill-afforded luxury at a time when every advantage given can cost you dearly.
So what do you think? Is Owen’s case further evidence that the fox in the box is really on his way out? Or do you think that the modern game can still find room for the traditional six yard box striker?