Michael Owen’s announcement yesterday about his end of season retirement will come as a surprise to some but for most they believe the player may have already been in retirement for sometime. The 33-year-old former England striker has taken the decision based on the realisation that the better part of his career is behind him and that with injuries happening on a more regular basis, his body is unable to cope any longer with the rigorous of the modern game. Owen has had quite the career since breaking onto the scene with Liverpool as an exciting 17-year-old with electric pace. His eye for goal, rapid footwork and quality finishing ability made him one of the most exciting prospects England’s famous school of excellence, Lilleshall has ever produced.
From a young age, Owen was breaking goal scoring records. At age 10, he scored an incredible 97 goals in one season for Deeside Area Primary School’s Under-11 team, smashing the former holder’ record by 25 goals. It was at that point that Liverpool knew they needed to pay close attention to him as the record he broke belonged to one of their greatest strikers, Ian Rush. Before long Owen had signed youth forms with the Anfield club and began his England career firstly with England Under 15’s then Under 16’s, again smashing goal scoring feats along the way. He hit 28 goals in 20 games, a striking record that still holds today. It wasn’t long after then that Owen made his Liverpool debut, first at youth levels and then finally handed a first team slot by then manager Roy Evans. He made his first team debut against Wimbledon, and in Owen fashion finished the day on the score sheet. After then, he never looked back and over the next eight years went on to score another 117 goals in 216 appearances.
Two years after his first team debut at Liverpool, a then prolific Owen was handed his full England start under manager Glenn Hoddle. His performances for both club and country before the 1998 World Cup in France, made it almost impossible for Hoddle not to include him in his squad but it didn’t make him an automatic starter. During the tournament, he sat out the first two games but a goal against Romania in the final game, persuaded Hoddle to give him a starting berth against Argentina in the next round. His faith was repaid as Owen scored most likely the best goal of his career with a dazzling run, before beating two players and slotting past the goalkeeper. Despite England crashing out of the tournament after that game, Owen went on to make the no.9 slot his own and represented England a total of 89 times in a ten-year period, scoring 40 goals.
It was at the high of his career, aged 25, Real Madrid came calling and Owen made the move to Spain, in what some see start of Owen’s downfall. After a somewhat successful season with the Madrid club, Owen was on his way back to England in a £16.8 million move to Newcastle. Controversy surrounded his move as Owen was openly admitting that he wanted to move back to Liverpool but with the Anfield club unwilling to match Real’s validation and Owen’s place now in Madrid unsecure, he reluctantly took the move to the north of England in an effort to resurrect his England career. It was a move that would end in failure as Owen suffered injury after injury at the club over the next four years. On a hefty pay packet, Newcastle stood by their striker as the fans prayed that he could get back his fitness and start scoring for the club like the Owen of old. Unfortunately only disappointment came as Owen’s contract ran out and he decided to leave the club. What angered the fans the most was that Owen then decided to sign for Manchester United, making him a hated figure in the North. But Owen’s move to United did not pan out as planned and his playing time was limited due to stronger strikers ahead of him and a lack of fitness. Eventually Owen left United to move to Stoke where he has played for the past two season, again limited due to fitness issues.
His decision to call it a day comes after almost seven years of injury problems where Owen has spent more time on the racetrack than the football pitch. His distractions away from football as well as his lack of playing time have led to many speculating that Owen gave up mentality some years ago and his retirement from the game was inevitable. Owen will argue that his passion for the game has never dwindled and that only injuries have prevented him adding to his England haul of caps and goals but the sad truth is somewhere in the middle. If Owen had remained at Liverpool instead of moving to Spain with Real, he may have managed to join the likes of Beckham and Shilton in the 100+ cap club for England. Owen will still go down as one of the countries greatest ever strikers but perhaps he could have been even better if he had decided against the move. Fellow strikers like Gary Linekar and Alan Shearer have already taken to Twitter to proclaim how good Owen was and pay tribute to the player. Owen deserves the accolades he receives for his career up to the age of 26 but after that, injuries prevented the game from seeing what else this England great could have achieved. He leaves the game as a winner, having won cups and league titles at the various clubs he has played at but one will wonder if he will look back on his whole career with the same enthusiasm as he had in the early part of it when he burst onto the world scene with that goal on 30 June in St. Étienne, France at the 1998 World Cup.
To see his amazing goal against Argentina, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPC6Yv3BPVY