Following on from Neil Jones’s article about Newcastle’s current plight, I wondered about the plight of a man once dubbed ‘The Boy Wonder’ by Liverpool fans. Michael Owen.
We are now into the final stages of the Premier League campaign, with a title race back on, and all four English clubs are into the last eight of the Champions League. This is where its at for any self respecting professional footballer. Imagine being Steven Gerrard last Sunday, he scores a hattrick that helps keep the team he captains hot on the league leaders heels, drives home with plaudits ringing in his ears, reads the text off The FA reminding him he is in the England squad, rolls into bed next to Alex Curran and nods off, dreaming of winning the double for his club.
Now imagine being Michael Owen last Saturday. His team slip to another defeat after being well beaten at home by Arsenal. He knows he is not in the England squad, with the likes of Carlton Cole and Gabriel Agbonlahor being preferred last time. On top of that, he’s at Newcastle. If he manages to stay fit, for him, the final stages of this season offer only a relegation dogfight, rather than a chase for silverware. He must have been thinking, ‘where did it all go wrong?’
It really should be different for Owen. He was a truly great player at Liverpool. He was a teenage sensation, scoring on his debut and never looking back. On the odd occasion he went through a lean spell he would invariably stick it to the critics by going goal crazy soon after. In 2001 he helped Liverpool to an unprecedented cup treble, famously turning that FA Cup final against Arsenal on its head. He was the first Liverpool man to be crowned European player of the year, averaging better than a goal every other game during his time at the club. In fact, towards the end of Anfield service it was embarrassingly obvious how much Liverpool relied on him.
He had also become a firm ‘England man’, something fellow red Robbie Fowler had never quite managed. He scored important, memorable World Cup goals (that one against Argentina 98) for England and rammed a famous hattrick past Oliver Khan during that thumping 5-1 victory over Germany in Munich. It is fair to say Owen was a world beater. The question is…can he be again?
Most people will probably say ‘no, he’s finished now’. It would be hard to argue that he could cut it at the very top again. His list of injuries is phenomenal. He should be on those adverts ‘Have you been injured at work?’, ‘Have you slipped, tripped or fell over weirdly and snapped your knee?’ etc. This season he missed most of Newcastle’s warm up games with Mumps. Mumps? What next nappy rash?!
However, Owen is surely too good to be playing for a team scrapping for Premier League survival. He is still the right side of 30 and when he actually plays, he still scores at a good rate. With his contract is up in the summer he will have a choice to make. He may stay on at Newcastle, if he feels he ‘owes something to them’, but probably not if they go down. He may get another huge pay day at another struggling club. Or maybe, just maybe, one of the big four will take a risk on him, and he will get a chance to become that player again.
Personally, I would like to see the latter happen. The alternative is that he is left on the football scrap heap, with his astonishing early career being slowly forgotten.