Tuesday 19 March 2013

Michael Owen: Thanks for the Memories

When I was nine years old, my family and I went to Fuerteventura on holiday. I hadn't really gotten into football at this point; while I played for a local football team, I wasn't a fervent follower of the game as most of my friends were, and didn't really care to watch any games on the telly when they were on.

One of the key moments that set me off on a love of football was a game which will remain etched in the memories of many an Englishman as one of the finest nights that we have ever witnessed as Three Lion's devotees. And it was in a bar in Fuertaventura at nine years old that I witnessed a rampant England side destroy Germany by four goals. Michael Owen, who announced his retirement today, scored a hat-trick. And in that bar, whilst Owen experienced the euphoria of netting three goals for his country, I fell in love with football.

I expect many people of my generation will feel a tie to Owen; while we were growing up and learning the ways of the game, he was making a name for himself at Liverpool and on the international scene. Everyone loved Owen at school; he scored goals (lots of them), and he was a exemplary role model for anyone who loved playing football. Polite and down-to-earth, you would have never guessed he played for a top Premier League club.

And just as we were on the cusp of realising that we will never get to play for our country, or even for a team better than our own village outfit, Owen started to succumb to the injuries that sadly blighted his career in what should have been his peak years. After scoring 118 goals in 216 appearances for Liverpool, he moved to Real Madrid, where it must still be said he scored a respectable amount of goals for the amount of appearances he made from the bench (13 in 36 games), but after that is where the hamstring problems which he suffered from since his years at Liverpool began to rob him of playing time both domestically and internationally. His move to Newcastle United was interrupted by a cruciate injury which kept him out for nearly a year, and many on Tyneside were happy to see the back of him after he left. I was on hand to see him score one of his goals for Newcastle at the RICOH arena when he popped up to score an injury-time winner to send Coventry out of the League Cup. Heart-breaking though it might have been, I'm eternally glad I got to see him score a goal in the flesh.

After the departure from Newcastle, there was no real hope of Owen ever establishing himself on the international scene again. His record of 40 goals in 89 England appearances was remarkable, nearly a one in two ratio, and had he been able to shake off the injuries he incurred, there is no doubt he would have been the country's top marksmen ever. For all the scepticism over his Premier League career as well, he is the league's seventh highest scorer, and doesn't look like being overtaken any time soon.

The out-of-the-blue contract offer from Manchester United in 2009 caught many by surprise, but again, Owen was able to score goals for the Red Devils, including a crucial goal in the Manchester derby that I doubt many people (except City fans) would not have been delighted to see him score.

What next for Owen then? As is common knowledge, his connections within the horse racing scene should keep him busy, but I suspect he will want to come back to football at some point. I can't see him coaching or managing, but a job within the media looks increasingly likely. Unfortunately, on the few times I have seen him as a pundit, he doesn't seem to come across as an engaging individual. However, on his Twitter account and blog, he remains a reliable source of clever and insightful views on the game, and a humble one to boot. It should not be viewed as a great failure if he doesn't step into television punditry; some people use their voice and mind far greater through writing than their mouths (advice I wish some pundits would take nowadays, and accept that just because they appeared on TV as a player does not mean they can appear as a personality to the same effect), and I believe Owen might be one of these people.

Whatever he decides to do, I know that countless tributes to him will be pouring in across the country, and abroad too. Owen was once the best in the world at what he did; he lit up games with his lightning pace and predatory finishing, and I really do hope he manages to score just a few more for Stoke this season if he is given a chance.

It may be tempting to ask what might have been if he could have kept fit, but to do so would be doing a disservice to him and his career; his footballing candle may have burnt quickly, but it burnt brightly, and while he is still on Stoke's books, I wouldn't bet against there being a few sparkling embers before he hangs up his boots at the end of the season.

Good luck, Michael!

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