by Liam McConville

Just over ten years ago Michael Owen scored a hat-trick for England on an unforgettable night in Munich. The 5-1 win is arguably England’s best win of the 21st Century so far and was a night that showed Owen at his lethal best.  A few months later Owen would become only the fourth Englishman to clinch the prestigious Ballon d’Or award. At the age of just twenty-two the young Liverpool striker had the world at his feet. He seemed destined to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s England scoring record and his club had won five trophies in 2001 including a cup treble in the 2000/2001 season.

However this outstanding year was as good as it got for Owen. A succession of injuries has hampered his career. From hamstrings to thigh tears, Owen’s endured them all. Since leaving Anfield in 2004 he has struggled to hold down a regular first team place due to a combination of his injuries and not being the player he once was. For me it is a shame to see a once great player and a Liverpool legend content at seeing his career fizzle out on the side-lines. Of course this frustration is increased by the fact that Owen is now plying his trade at Old Trafford.

Owen should be given credit for being one of the very few top English players to play abroad even if his move to Real Madrid didn’t work out. Ultimately the beginning of the end of Owen as a top striker came shortly into Owen’s miserable four year spell at Tyneside. After a promising start that included a hat-trick against West Ham Owen broke his foot ruling him out for the majority of his first season at St. James’ Park.

Then at the 2006 World Cup the most damaging injury, Owen ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament keeping him out for a year. When he returned he’d clearly lost a yard of pace that was so vital to his game. At his best Owen possessed blistering pace but this has been lost with age. He is still a brilliant finisher but without that speed Owen is a shadow of his former self.

He is only thirty-two and recently claimed that he feels he has two or three years left at the top level. However it seems highly unlikely that Owen will ever hold down a place in United’s first team.  A lack of playing time has certainly been apparent since his move to Manchester United. Even during the rare periods he has been fit Owen is regularly restricted to the bench with starts usually only coming in the Carling Cup.

Owen seems to have no desire to move despite his lack of action.

The infamous brochure incident invited ridicule and events such as spending the build-up to a Premier League game against Bolton at Doncaster racecourse before taking a helicopter to the Reebok Stadium shows that his commitment is not 100% focused on football any more. However Owen has a young family and another strong sporting passion in horse racing so it is understandable that he has other priorities.

Owen seems to have no desire to move despite his lack of action. His whole career has been spent at big teams and at all these clubs he has always had a good scoring record. It is up for debate whether he could still do a job for a Premier League club. For me Owen could do a similar role to what Kevin Phillips is doing for Blackpool for a top flight club. Phillips at thirty-eight is still a great striker but Owen seemingly wants to avoid the ‘journeyman’ route and refuses to drop down divisions for first team football.

He has had a great career but it could have been so much more. There have been so many ‘what if’ moments and setbacks over recent years that many have forgotten what he should be remembered for, sensational individual goals like ‘that’ goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup or great performances such as his storming one-man comeback against Arsenal in the 2001 FA Cup final.

Forty goals from eighty-nine appearances in an England shirt is a great return for a man completely frozen out of international football by Fabio Capello but now Owen doesn’t seem to have a place in the modern game. Football has evolved, with the demise of strike partnerships and the rise of the complete forward in the Didier Drogba mould.

Owen should perhaps be remembered as one of the last great poachers, a magnificent forward with a glittering career. But even now you can’t help but think what could have been?