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 hampered his career. From hamstrings to thigh tears, Owen’s endured them all. Since leaving Anfield in 2004 he 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 was 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 came 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 was still a brilliant finisher but without that speed Owen was a shadow of his former self.

He is only thirty-three and claimed only last year that he felt he had another couple of seasons at the highest level. However his failure to make any meaningful impression at Stoke illustrates all too painfully that few others agree with that sentiment and his refusal to take the ‘journeyman’ route and drop down the divisions has resulted in today’s unsurprising announcement of his forthcoming retirement.

Owen has indisputably enjoyed a successful 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 and a succession of others and as the century progressed Owen no longer seemed to have a place in the modern game. Football evolved, with the demise of strike partnerships and the rise of the complete forward in the Didier Drogba mould. Now punditry awaits.

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?