|Happy to sit on the sidelines: Michael Owen, bottom left, has spent more time on the bench than on the pitch since joining Manchester United in 2009 [GALLO/GETTY]|
Sentiment is often known to cloud otherwise good judgment.
As England tune up for next year’s European Championship with a couple of Wembley friendlies, Sir Alex Ferguson is among the respected voices calling for the unlikely return of Michael Owen to the national set-up.
But it seems a little far-fetched to suggest that the soon-to-be 32-year-old striker will be welcomed back with open arms ahead of Euro 2012.
Owen has not represented his nation since 2008 and is a bit-part player at Manchester United where he is recovering from his latest injury: a thigh problem.
Yet Sir Alex believes that the there is no one better than the ex-Liverpool forward when it comes to producing a goal out of nothing.
If he is that good, why is he fifth choice at Old Trafford? If there is no one better, why has Owen made only one league start in the past two seasons – against Sunderland in October 2010 when he was substituted after 45 minutes?
With a shared passion for horse-racing, Sir Alex clearly enjoys having Owen around the Carrington training ground and probably believes that he is a luxury that he can afford.
But to suggest that Owen should displace the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Bobby Zamora or even club teammate Danny Welbeck at the Euros is ludicrous, even if Wayne Rooney will be missing for the start of the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Fabio Capello is not right about many things but he was spot on when he sidelined Owen soon after taking over as national manager in January 2008. A series of injuries means that the only England player to have scored in four major tournaments has long been a pale shadow of his former self.
The stats do not lie. Since joining Manchester United in 2009, Owen has just five goals in 31 league appearances and 17 in 52 in all competitions, inflated by seven goals in seven games in the Carling Cup against the likes of Aldershot Town and Leeds United.
This week, Owen spoke about his ambition of matching his teammate Ryan Giggs by playing into his late 30’s. In recent weeks, he has hinted at harbouring hopes of adding to his 89 England caps. With 40 goals, he needs just 10 more to beat Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing scoring record.
If Owen is serious about representing his nation again, the first thing he needs to do is to leave Manchester United at the end of the season and go to a club where he will play every week. Capello is not alone in demanding that anyone in the national frame is a regular where they earn their wages.
At the moment, Owen is little more than an expensive mascot, sitting in the stands at Old Trafford after failing to make the bench yet again for an English Premier League game. His only premiership appearance this season came in September when he came on for the injured Javier Hernandez in the 1-1 draw at Stoke – United’s first dropped points of the campaign.
|It is a long time since Owen’s wonder goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup [GALLO/GETTY]|
Owen remains the ultimate professional and, of course, has the right to make any choice he wants about his own career.
But it is sad for many of his fans and former teammates to see such an iconic player become such a peripheral figure.
“It used to be that you’d go anywhere to play regular first-team football in the latter part of your career – for pride’s sake if nothing else,” said a retired England international who crossed paths with Owen in the 1990s.
“But the way the game has gone with the amount of money coming in, more modern day players are happy to simply sit on the bench or in the stands and pick up a pay cheque while making hollow statements about wanting more game time.”
Owen is on a reported £50,000 a week with the Red Devils.
Many of Old Trafford’s younger players would get a big thrill out of training every day with the two-time Premier League golden boot and his number-7 United shirt remains a strong seller around the world. But maybe Owen would be better suited to a non-playing ambassador role, similar to what Italy’s retired 2006 World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro performs at Dubai’s Al Ahli.
Owen has had a few memorable moments since joining the Red Devils but most came soon after his July 2009 move from Newcastle: grabbing a Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg, scoring the winner in a derby game against Manchester City and getting the equaliser in the 2010 Carling Cup final.
But for too long, Owen has been living off his reputation. It used to be his amazing goals that provided a thrill to fans.
Instead, the main suspense last season surrounded whether he would play enough times to earn a winners’ medal with Man United.
In the end, 11 appearances – 10 as a sub – saw him squeak over the line.
If only his friends and peers used this international break as a professional ‘intervention’ for Michael James Owen, maybe when he visits his racing stables in nearby Cheshire.
Instead of paying lip-service about being at a great club like Man United and wanting to pull on the England shirt again, why not simply have the courage to put your body on the line by moving to a place where you will play every week?
Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever (http://www.footballfeverpodcast.com/), the world’s first international football podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
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