The man who should've been an all time great: Michael Owen
As Steven Gerrard makes his 100th appearance for England against Sweden tonight, it’s easy to forget all about a player who Gerrard grew up with from a young age and forged such a terrific understanding with for both club and country. The player in question is Michael Owen.
Owen is just six months older than Gerrard, and despite not representing England for 4 years he still has 40 goals and 89 caps to his name. He burst onto the scene as an 18 year old with a stunning strike at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina, and along with David Beckham he was his country’s talisman for a number of years. A man for the big occasion, vital strikes against Brazil and Portugal spring to mind, among many others.
For Liverpool he scored 179 goals in just 306 appearances, and is considered by many to be among the greatest strikers that club has ever had. His decision to move from Anfield, coupled with his choice to move to Liverpool’s biggest rivals later in his career has, somewhat, altered many peoples views on Michael Owen, but he was a great servant to Liverpool.
But where did it all go wrong for Michael Owen?
The bottom line is that injuries have hindered the 32 year old more than any other top English player of his generation, and between 1998 and 2002 he was among the most feared, deadly strikers on the planet. He was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year in the same year (1998) and has won plenty of other team and individual accolades in his career.
His match-winning double in the 2001 FA Cup Final against Arsenal and his hat-trick for England in the famous 5-1 win over Germany helped win him the 2001 European Footballer of the Year award, which remains the most impressive moment of his career to date. In an era containing the talents of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Rivaldo, to win such an award highlights how good Owen was back then.
Sadly for him, his early 20s were to be the peak of his career.
Hamstring injuries and various niggles began to slowly take their toll as Owen’s Liverpool career came to an end in 2004. His last season at Anfield had not been as impressive as before, and although he was still good enough for Real Madrid to sign him, his electric burst of pace and ability to dribble at speed were not the same.
Subsequently, he failed to make an impact at the Bernabeu, and he never looked like ousting Raul or Ronaldo in the Madrid attack. Still, 13 goals in 36 games is far from shocking for a regular substitute. Even if his best days were behind him, if there was one thing he could still guarantee when fit it was goals.
After just one year in Spain, Newcastle made the big-money signing of Michael Owen amid delirious scenes outside St James’ Park. A link-up with old England teammate Alan Shearer looked like a match made in heaven, and the Newcastle faithful were buoyant.
In January 2006, however, Owen broke his metatarsal in an away trip to Spurs after clashing with England teammate Paul Robinson. This was the day that Owen’s career never fully recovered from. He was still only 26 when the injury occurred and still one of England’s key men, and with the World Cup in Germany looming many saw it as a huge blow to England’s chances.
Having returned in time for the World Cup, an out-of-sorts Michael Owen failed to score in the opening two games of the tournament, before a shocking cruciate ligament early in the 2-2 draw with Sweden saw Owen confined to a long spell on the sidelines. It was a sad sight.
Since 2006 he has almost been seen as a laughing stock among some fans, with many mocking his injury-plagued career and his failure to justify the wages he is being paid. This seems a harsh way to treat a player who gave England so much in his prime, and he deserves respect for what he has achieved.
Just 71 league games in 4 years at Newcastle pretty much sums it up injury-wise, and Owen left the club in 2009. A shock move to Manchester United gave him the chance to show he could still play at the highest level. Barring his memorable last-gasp winner against Manchester City at Old Trafford later that year, he was never close to being a regular under Sir Alex Ferguson, and was only really used to any effect in Carling Cup games.
Having left United for Stoke City this summer, many tipped Owen to have a new lease of life at The Britannia Stadium. Typically, injuries have scuppered his return to form so far, with just four appearances and no goals. It will be intriguing to see what he is capable of once he returns. If he returns.
If Michael Owen had never had the injury problems he has suffered so severely from over the past decade, he would probably already have over 120 England caps to his name and well over the 49 goals that Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker currently hold as the record.
He will still go down as a top player for both Liverpool and England, but he should be seen as the one of the greatest British footballers of all time. Sadly, he is nowhere near it.