Ever since he burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, Michael Owen has become a household name throughout Britain. However, now 31, the Liverpudlian striker is a star on the wane. Yet last week, with Owen's contract set to expire at the end of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson surprised many by tying the striker down to a new one-year deal.
From an initial cursory glance, one would be forgiven for questioning Ferguson's logic in renewing the contract of a man who has essentially been reduced to an amiable reserve. Yet if you were to look at the deal again, it becomes abundantly clear that Manchester United still have something to offer Michael Owen and more importantly, he still has something to offer them.
Amidst the mire of greed in which modern footballer's wallow, Owen stands apart, a man who just wants to play football. I find it hard to imagine a 31-year-old Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard or Ashley Cole blindly accepting what is now almost a part-time role in United's squad.
You could claim, with strong factual acumen, that Owen isn't good enough to start. Yet if this were the case with the aforementioned trio, I cannot envisage that any of the three would be as contented with the situation as Owen seemingly is.To use a synonym, all four are sitting in the banquet hall after the Royal wedding, yet while Owen is content with his outside seat, Rooney et al. would be pushing for the top table.
Owen's contract, too, is symbolic of the nature of the man. The deal, which although not fully disclosed, is rumoured to be in the £30,000-£40,000 per week range, puts Owen on parity with some of United's lower earners such as John O'Shea and Wes Brown.
Of course the contract offer would be void if it weren't for the fact that Owen could make some contribution to United next term. Last time out he netted five times, including the winner at Southampton in the FA Cup and the equaliser against Bolton in the league. In total Owen made 17 appearances in league and cup last season, with most after coming on from the substitutes bench, a goal return of just under one in three.
A final string to the Michael Owen bow is his top level experience. In the wake of the retirement of three senior club players in the last season (Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar), experienced players in the Owen ilk are a diminishing breed at Old Trafford. With Sir Alex Ferguson's obvious penchant for the blooding of the club's abundance of exciting young talent into his first-team squad, players like Owen will prove invaluable.
Sir Alex Ferguson spoke of his pleasure at Owen's new deal late last week, claiming that the former international will get "more opportunities in the new season." Ferguson cited the reason for Owen's bit-part role in the team last season as due to the performances of a certain little pea, claiming "the performances of Chicharito put everyone in the shade." With the shade likely to define Owen's immediate future at Old Trafford the brilliance of the deal is that he doesn't mind being there.