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Michael Owen: What Could Have Been

During the West Ham v Stoke game last night, two former England internationals were providing an invaluable insight into how the Stoke set-piece came about. They told us all how Stoke manager Tony Pulis would have been behind it, whilst the players planned, organised and watched as it all came together through hours and hours of work on the training ground; both absolutely adored it.

Later on in the night, one of them continued to analyse, waxing lyrical about just how wonderful the goal was; Gary Neville is at the top of the punditry trade. The other, instead of recovering from playing in the game (which he should have been), showed fans pictures of mementoes from past glories; Michael Owen has become the punch line in every other football related joke. Injured yet again, it would seem any hope of the Michael Owen of yesteryear returning to our TV screens is long gone.

The 17-year-old who scored on his Liverpool debut, the 18-year-old who finished off a brilliant individual goal in the 1998 World Cup, the  24-year-old who joined, arguably, the biggest football club in the world, the 27-year-old who hit his 40th goal for England and the 29-year-old Manchester Derby winner have all become the 32-year-old with splinters on his backside. Wonderkid to benchwarmer for one of the more unattractive sides in the Premier League at the same age as other strikers would be just clinging on to the peak of their powers. One of the most natural goal scorers this country has ever seen to five league goals in three years. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

There are those who would have you know Owen’s move to Manchester United was the final nail in the injury hit striker’s coffin, not playing, not scoring, he was wasting his talent, but this probably isn’t the case. In his first season at United there were calls for him to be called up to the England World Cup squad. Although mostly coming off the bench, he was scoring goals, including a hat-trick in the Champions League, and only an injury in the League Cup final ruled out any chance of selection. But there you have it, there is the problem: injuries. He barely missed a game up until his move to Newcastle, after that he’s missed football left, right and centre.

He’s also got plenty of things to keep him busy away from football, and no matter what media trained spiel he comes out with, his horse owning commitments will have taken away not only his passion for football but his determination to attempt to regain form anything like in his heighday. Being contempt with sitting on a bench at Stoke does no favours to disproving this suggestion. He’ll retire earlier than he should have done, off to play with his horses and forget football even exists.

But what could have been? Could Owen, without the injuries, without the benchwarming and without the distractions, have become one of the best players of all time? It’s difficult to argue against it. He would have certainly become England’s all time top scorer; just another 10 goals were needed when he scored his last in 2007. That alone would have written his name into football folklore for years to come. It’s also easy to forget what he did before his injury hit time at Newcastle. A goal better than every other game for Liverpool, two golden boots, a Ballon d’Or not to mention being part of team honours in unfancied Liverpool sides.

Even the move to Real Madrid, although a relative failure, wasn’t as bad as the stats (16 goals in 45 games) make out. Most of his appearances were off the bench but he made a real impact to a team which was still in the Galacticos era. With three world class strikers in himself, Raul and Ronaldo normally battling for one starting birth, he only failed to play a part in two league games throughout his entire season with the club.

Personally, I believe Owen was yet to reach his peek when his injuries began. He could have gone on and become even greater than in the early stages of  his career if so many factors hadn’t conspired against him. What do you think? Do you think Owen could have been one of the best of all time? Reply to this post and let me know what you think.

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