By Peter Ames
Michael Owen’s footballing life has taken a rather unconventional route: between great rivals in the form of Liverpool and Manchester United, from the highs of Real Madrid to the more recent lows of the Flint Job Centre, with a torrid injury record throughout. His career appeared to have hit a considerable trough in recent months; released by Manchester United, over the summer he took to selling himself on twitter with the desperation of a man trying to offload an unwanted sofa through an advert in a newsagent window. After alleged interest from ‘top clubs’ in Europe (his words), and brief flirtations with boyhood-club Everton, Scottish Champions Celtic and, most intriguingly of all, former-club Liverpool, Stoke City emerged as the only serious contenders for his signature. They eventually signed him four days after the summer transfer window closed.
It became increasingly apparent that his move to the Potteries was perhaps his only option. Regarding the ‘European interest’, anyone could claim that they spent the summer fighting off the tempting advances of Besiktas but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it happened, and Celtic manager Neil Lennon was quick to laugh off suggestions of a move to Scotland. Furthermore, as a man whose prowess in recent times has been as little more than a goal-scorer, he surely would have been surplus to requirements at Everton. Hell froze over this summer and they signed strikers to support the fairly prolific Nikica Jelavić. Finally, the red side of the city were never really an option. Despite the fact that Liverpool currently boast a goal-scoring threat roughly equivalent to that of the Andorran under-sixteens, due to Owen’s fraternising with the fiercest of enemies in his time at Old Trafford, his presence would have been as well received at Anfield as Alan Davies, dressed as Margaret Thatcher, reading the Sun. Thus hopes of reviving the famous partnership with Emile Heskey (also a free agent and an option for striker-light Liverpool) seemed doomed to be but a dream.
One place that theoretically could have been an option is Upton Park. Sam Allardyce’s West Ham will be reliant upon the midfield threat of Kevin Nolan to produce goals that may not come in abundance from his current crop of front-men. In addition, loanee Andy Carroll has the uncanny ability to get a football to bounce off of him into random areas, sometimes quite dangerous areas, and it here where a player such as Owen can come to life. He may not have the explosive pace that stunned the world far back in 1998, but in his time at United he demonstrated that he still has some grasp of the goal-poacher’s dark arts.
Stoke City and West Ham in many ways resemble each other: replace Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan with Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, and you will see two playing styles that are not dissimilar. The Potters also lack an out-and-out goal-scorer, and this is where Owen can contribute. His cause at the Potters is helped by the fact that he has played with Crouch, in one of the most archetypal ‘big-man, little man’ partnerships. If anything the Stoke City forward is a more polished link-man than the somewhat greener Carroll, and can bring others into the game with something more resembling intention, and it is on the second ball where Owen would be expected to operate. Put simply, he is unlikely to be getting on the end of many long throw-ins, but once the inevitable penalty area bedlam ensues, he has the guile to toe-poke the ball into the net from four yards.
Michael Owen may be a man disliked by many, a large majority of whom would have sung his name in days passed, but let us not forget that he does just want to play football. Whilst his weekly wage at the Britannia will undoubtedly be an improvement on the fifty pounds a week he might otherwise receive on Jobseeker’s Allowance, he will surely not receive the money that he did from more ‘generous’ paymasters at Old Trafford. There is arguably something to admire in his attitude, one that contrasts with hangers-on such as Emmanuel Adebayor, who was somewhat reluctant to leave Manchester City due to the fact that they were paying him an apparent fortune to play Sudoku and watch This Morning.
Michael Owen’s ‘final gamble’ may or may not be a success, but there is an unquestionable chance that he could add something a little different to Stoke City’s front-line and, in turn, end a turbulent career on his own terms, doing what he clearly loves. If nothing else, as he rekindles his partnership with Peter Crouch we can all pretend that we are in happier times, watching the England Team of 2005.