Owen retirement caps a blighted but excellent career

In football, there is very little more exciting to a fan than a young player who is phenomenally gifted. We talk about the Raheem Sterlings, Oxlade Chamberlains etc, but what we really get excited about is when it’s produced on the international stage.

We saw it with Rooney in Euro 2004 – that raw talent unnerved by nothing and afraid of no one.

Owen
Michael Owen's injury at the World Cup in 2006 was the start of the end of his career. Photo: CC_TX_UK (via Flickr)

But what Michael Owen did against Argentina at France 1998 was arguably better, doing it on the world’s greatest stage against one of the world’s best teams.  Aged merely 18, Liverpool’s boy wonder had the world at his feet.

But sadly, ruined by injury, Owen was denied a full and healthy career. On Tuesday, March 19th, 2013, he announced his retirement at the end of the current Premier League season.

Watching Owen in my England pyjamas aged six compared with watching him now (sadly not still in England pyjamas) makes for saddening comparison. His multiple attempts to revive his career have seen him pegged back at almost every turn. There’s simply no career in playing a handful of games at a time.

Playing at Liverpool and for England Owen was nothing short of world class, and winning three trophies in the 2000-2001 season can be seen as the pinnacle of that. He was part of a Liverpool side that inspired a lot more fear than it does today, overturning Arsenal with two second half goals in the FA Cup final that would leave any nine-year-old Gooner crying (definitely not me).

Owen’s attentions, however, were garnered by foreign pursuits. Resisting for the 2003/2004 season at least, he stayed in the UK. But the departure of Houllier seemed to signal a shift, and the young striker from Chester made his way to the most successful club in the world.

Failing to properly establish himself at Real Madrid, he made his way back to Britain after a mere season at the Galacticos. The asking price being a little too high for certain clubs, he settled for Newcastle in a bid to rescue his chances of World Cup inclusion for 2006.

Rather ironically, it was his success in being picked for the squad which arguably ruined his career.

Against Sweden, Owen fell awkwardly and, when I saw awkwardly, I don’t mean in the funny “Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em” way. His body seemed to move in about three separate directions, and the result of this was the damage of his anterior cruciate ligament – the nightmare injury for every footballer.

After this, Owen’s career at Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke never threatened to reach the same highs. But was it ever likely to even with a full bill of health?

His style of play was largely based on pace and agility, obviously with the brilliance of his finishing. But it was a style of play which arguably would have already enjoyed its peak before the injuries began. Would he have adapted to his age as Giggs has? Become a more intelligent, albeit less mobile player?

Possibly. In fact no, probably. The man is suitably intelligent and articulate to have been able to understand the requirements of him. But injuries robbed him of that opportunity.

A career blighted by injury leaves everyone at a loss for words. What else can you say? It’s no-one’s fault.

Fortunately for Owen he achieved enough in his youth for his career to resonate for a very long time. His time may be up as a player, but no one will forget how good he was when it began.

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