Thanks mainly to the fact it’s an international football week and the news that Michael Carrick may or may not play in defence against the worst team in the world counts as news, today has turned into day two of the Michael Owen love-in.
Yesterday Owen himself tweeted to say:
I'm overwhelmed. So many nice messages. Having known it for a while I thought I would be ok. Reduced to tears watching @SkySportsNews!
— michael owen (@themichaelowen) March 19, 2013
Which rather suggests he:
(1) deliberately choose what was likely to be a slow news week
(2) announced his retirement
(3) took to the sofa to watch the tributes rolling in for himself.
Kind of like kicking back with a bowl of popcorn to listen to the eulogies at your funeral.
The reaction could broadly be split into two camps. One school of thought says it is an unfulfilled career – one hindered by Owen’s injuries and love of big paycheques. The other, rather more sympathetic side of the coin highlights the talent, but emphasises the bad fortune with injuries that has littered his career. That one mainly comes from fellow professionals. Former England striker, Gary Lineker was resounding in his praise.
He’s one of the greatest strikers who has ever put on an England shirt. But for injures, Michael would have broken all England scoring records. He was blighted with one injury after another, which was a real shame. It’s not like he suddenly lost form. It was circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
A fellow ex-England and Liverpool star, John Barnes tried to focus on the positives of his career rather than the time spent in the physio room that had such an adverse impact on Owen’s career:
Forget about what he could have achieved if he hadn’t suffered so many injuries, it’s what he has achieved. He’s had one of the best careers anyone could hope for
Frank Lampard represents the current generation and he struck the balance between regret and the substantial achievements Owen did manage throughout his career.
Without the injury problems towards the end of his career he would have broken all of the goalscoring records and reached 100 caps. If there’s a frustration it will be that. But he shouldn’t have any because he’s had a top career for club and country
While it’s hard not to feel sorry any player who suffers frequent injuries, it also shows how important durability has become in the modern footballer. Some hugely talented players will be too fragile to sustain careers in professional. It’s a pity, but it’s also as inevitable as the Manchester United players furiously protesting with the referee every time he gives a free kick against them for Paul Scholes’ latest attempt to maim an opponent tackle. Just because Owen was unlucky with injuries doesn’t mean he was a crap player. But equally, just because he was unlucky and spent too much time in the physio’s room, doesn’t mean we can compensate by elevating him to a status beyond his actual achievements.
You can’t really argue that Michael Owen hasn’t had a great career. It’s far better than 99% of the people who have or ever will play professional football will achieve. Still though, such was the talent we saw when he sliced through the Argentine defence in St. Etienne at France 98, ‘great’ still feels like unfulfilled potential. Based on those memories, we should undoubtedly be talking about a player who reached similar heights to Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Brazilian Ronaldo and Gerd Muller.
Clearly we’re not and as good as Owen was, that will always feel like promise not quite fulfilled, due to luck or otherwise.