In May 1997 Michael Owen scored his first senior goal for Liverpool on debut against Joe Kinnear's Wimbledon, at the tired and jaded arena that is Selhurst Park. The drab surroundings only served to highlight the youthful flash of promise that was a 17 year old Owen latching onto a through ball and slotting a trademark finish past the despairing Neil Sullivan. A star was born.
Fast forward to 2008 and it is fair to say that Michael Owen has not enjoyed the kind of successful career that many predicted for him when he was terrorising defences with blistering pace in the late 1990s. Without doubt injuries have played a huge part in holding Owen back from ever really becoming the global megastar he threatened to grow into, yet in fairness to Owen he has transformed himself into a different type of player as his pace waned over the years. A consistent goal scorer he remains, especially when called upon by his country, as a record of 40 goals in 89 appearances attests to.
Yet despite this enviable rate of return for England, Fabio Capello has deemed Owen surplus to requirements for the forthcoming World Cup Qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Belarus. Rooney picks himself and Heskey plainly deserves inclusion on the back of impressive and selfless recent displays. Therefore, one can conclude that picked ahead of him were Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch, who have struck up an admittedly productive partnership at Portsmouth.
Fair enough, some may say. Crouch and Defoe have 8 league goals between them this season, and both deserve credit for joining Pompey from what could be described as bigger clubs in order to play regular first team football. It can also be argued that Crouch offers something different to Owen in that his height brings with it uncertainty for defenders, and an ability to lead the line that Owen cannot match.
For his part, Defoe is the Premier League's joint leading scorer (along with Amr Zaki and Fernando Torres) having notched five goals so far, and has generally excelled since his move south from Tottenham in January. Playing week in week out, largely injury free, he has come to look like the Defoe of old before months spent warming the Spurs bench took their toll. Yet Defoe's England record is patchy at best. Thirty caps have yielded just 5 international goals, hardly an inspiring record.
Those who claim Owen is out of touch need only look at that same Premier League scoring chart where Owen sits with three goals to his name, (plus a Carling Cup strike against Spurs). This is the same tally as Peter Crouch, and for that matter the same amount as Rooney and Heskey have managed combined. Add to this the fact that Owen is operating in the unenviable environment of a Newcastle United team in utter turmoil and his goal return begins to look positively admirable.
Likely as it seems that Heskey will partner Rooney up front, for the first game at least, Defoe and Crouch will begin from the bench. Should, heaven forbid against such lowly opposition, England require a late goal surely it would be preferable to have a man on the bench with as much proven scoring experience as Michael Owen rather than Defoe with his rather less impressive international pedigree.
Fair enough, Capello does not see enough in Owen at the moment to do what is required to include him in a starting eleven, which is namely to build the team around him and his poaching style. But for a man who has served England so admirably for a decade now, is a place in the squad for a fit Michael Owen too much to ask?
Ironically Joe Kinnear is now Owen's interim manager at beleaguered Newcastle, and today added his support to Owen's cause. Lets hope Mr Capello has not made a misjudgement that will cost England dearly.
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