0-0 at La Mestalla stadium and Sir Alex Ferguson, late in the second half, looks to his bench. He needs a goal badly and he knows it. Manchester United threw two points away at Old Trafford a few weeks earlier against Rangers and needed to atone. A draw would heap pressure onto the three-time Champions League winners who are favorites to top the group.
Knowing what’s at stake, Ferguson summons his chosen substitute on 77 minutes. But what?! It’s not Michael Owen, who scored in his last two games, including the clinical header that snatched a point and spared United’s blushes against Bolton at the weekend. Instead, it’s Javier Hernandez, who would be making only his second appearance in the competition. A few minutes have passed and with no goal in sight, Ferguson looks to his bench once more. Again though, it’s not Owen he calls into action, it’s 19 year old Federico Macheda.
There’s a bit of an injury and form crisis at the England camp. Given Owen’s recent surge in goal-scoring form, one would think that now would be a good time for Fabio Capello to bring Owen back in from the wilderness, but instead, Newcastle’s Andy Carroll looks set to make Capello’s squad after being omitted from the England U21’s. Capello thus remains true to his word that he would only pick Owen if he plays regularly for his club.
There’s no end to Owen’s frustration, it seems. Despite the goals he scores, he is just not going to get enough pitch time for club or country and at an age when the curtain is coming down on his career, surely, playing Cup games, getting a few odd minutes here and there or just warming the bench is not the way Michael Owen envisioned his career would end. Being deemed redundant both at club level and for country is surely demoralizing. Credit to the former Liverpool and Real Madrid ace though, he isn’t throwing a hissy fit. He works hard and he takes the chances afforded to him, however few and far in between they may be. But, things did not have to be this way.
Almost a year and a half ago, Owen had a very important decision to make. He had a few offers from different clubs worth considering. However, when he heard of United’s firm interest, he jumped at their offer. That proved to be a huge mistake and at this stage of his career, he’d be fortunate to get an opportunity to correct it. Given the fact that Rooney and Berbatov were at the club, Owen should have known that chances would have been few and far in between. Understandably, the lure of playing for Manchester United would have been too strong to resist, especially at a time when his career seemed to be heading south. In his mind, that opportunity seemed too good to be true and ultimately, too good to turn down. However, had Owen spurned United’s advances and gone to a Premier League club that could have guaranteed him a starting berth on a regular basis, there’s no telling the kind of impact that decision would’ve had on his faltering career, including at International level.
Now, at the age of 30 going on 31, is there enough time for Owen to atone for his error in judgment? Well, with Gerard Houllier registering an interest in his former pupil, there is time for one last chance yet. Ferguson is adamant that his No.7 is staying put, but if things continue the way they are, Owen will want to grab that chance with both hands. There are five strikers in the United squad at the moment. Don’t forget that there are two more out on loan (Diouf and Welbeck). Surely, there is a bleak future at United for Owen. His contract expires next summer and I don’t think it would be renewed. That said, he would have a few clubs, including Aston Villa, waiting to pick him up on a free. This may be his last chance to end his career on a high, so Owen would want to weigh his options carefully this time around.
He may not have the legs anymore, but Michael Owen still possesses that killer eye for goal. He still has the predatory instincts that endeared him to the Liverpool faithful. He still has his renowned ability to nick a vital goal. His savoury strike against fierce rivals Manchester City proves that point. Given a fresh start at a club where he plays as often as his body allows, England’s 4th all-time top scorer will remind the football world that he still has a lot to offer.