Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhatever Happened to Young Michael Owen - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Whatever Happened to Young Michael Owen - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Whatever Happened to Young Michael Owen

Earlier this week, there was a fair amount in the press about how it is a full decade since England’s 5-1 victory in Munich. Initially, I was going to write about how the fact that we are celebrating this victory a full ten years on typifies English footballs attitude. Yes, it was a good win, in fact at the time it was a vitally important win, but it meant very little. Germany took that defeat, and within nine months they were competing in yet another World Cup final. While English fans are celebrating this famous victory, Germany have got on with their business, reaching two finals (World Cup 2002 and Euro 2008) and a further two semi-finals (World Cups 2006 and 2010). In that time, England’s best result has been two quarter-final appearances in 2004 and 2006.

However, I’m not going to be writing about that, whatever my feelings are on the subject. Instead, I want to take a look at the hero of that night. It is easy to forget that Michael Owen was aged just twenty in that match. 2001 was clearly the best season of his career; aside from a hat trick in Munich, Liverpool won no fewer than five trophies (the three proper ones were the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup), with Owen virtually winning the FA Cup final himself. This remarkable season led to him being voted European Footballer of the Year. To put that in some context, the previous English winner was Kevin Keegan in 1979, some 22 years earlier. Since 2001, no English player has won, and indeed only Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 has represented the Premier League as winner.

I don’t think that it is being hyperbolic to claim that young Michael Owen had the potential to go and become one of the world’s best strikers as one of the key players in a resurgent Liverpool side that many commentators expected to go on and become Manchester United’s key rivals for domestic dominance. It is then, looking back, somewhat of an anti-climax to view the number of trophies he was won since 2001 – the 2010 League Cup and 2011 Premier League title, in addition to a couple of Community Shields.

But, the Premier League was won, surely that counts for something. Well yes it does, and I would not begrudge anyone the chance to claim the domestic title, but he barely qualified for the medal with one start added to ten substitute appearances resulting in two goals. Indeed, half of his goals last season came after Manchester United had already wrapped up the title. I’m sure people will argue that his experience was invaluable to the team, and his knowhow helped to nurture the rest of the forwards. But those forwards were Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez. Sure, given the similar styles of play, he may well have been instrumental in the progress that Hernandez showed in his first season in English football, but that is probably it. Given the influence of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, it is questionable as to how loud Owen’s voice would be in the dressing room.

And then there is his England record. I’ve never seen a player to wants to play for England quite as much as Owen does. While at Newcastle United, he seemed more interested in being fit for England than for the Magpies. A record of 40 goals from 89 caps is nothing to be sniffed out. Only Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Bobby Charlton have more than Owen, three of the greatest players ever to pull on an England shirt. And no-one eclipses Owen’s record haul of 26 goals in competitive matches. It is also of consequence that he has scored in every knockout match he has ever played in an international competition. This is a phenomenal record that should mean Owen is remembered as one of England’s greatest strikers. But, aged 31 and no one even mentions him when it comes to naming an England squad. Whether he would be a starting player even if he had achieved his potential is questionable, but Wayne Rooney has eclipsed Owen as England’s number one striker.

Since Owen last appeared in an England shirt Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Emile Heskey, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Darren Bent, Ashley Young, Carlton Cole, Bobby Zamora, Kevin Davies, Andy Carroll, Jay Bothroyd and Danny Welbeck have all represented England in a forward position. A few of them are understandable, but ten years ago, would anyone have ever expected that Kevin Davies and Jay Bothroyd would be more preferable in the Three Lions?

Owen must look back with regrets, but football has never appeared to be his main passion. His horse-racing career appears to be his main focus, currently owning around 45 horses. Given his clear ability with the ball at his feet, it seems sad that he is happy to sit on Manchester United’s bench rather than heading to a lesser club where he will be the star. Compare him to Robbie Keane, a player of probably not quite as much ability, but has over a century of international caps, producing 51 goals, but who has been prepared to leave a bigger club in order to play regularly (this relates as much to his loan move to West Ham last January as it does to his state side adventures in LA). Still aged just 31, Michael Owen’s career is not over, but it appears to be in his head. I wonder if he ever puts on the DVD of that Munich hat-trick and wonders what might have been.

Tom Bason

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