Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Do not underestimate the determination of a gambling man

Michael Owen’s fall from grace resembles a slow and painful death, like a bullet in the stomach.

As his career has progressed and as he has tried to rekindle the glory of the Anfield years, the striker has only attracted more failure. And now the former European Footballer of the Year – still only 29 years old – has moved to Manchester United. It is a move that has generated much attention amongst City fans (we all want to see Owen flop) and much interest in the wider footballing world.

On the way up
Owen is the classic example of a sublime English talent that blossomed and then strangely withered away. He scored close to 120 goals in just over 200 appearances for the red side of Merseyside. He won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup with Liverpool in 2001 and went on to receive the Ballon d’Or the very same year. Soon after Owen was rewarded with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, where he played alongside the likes of Raul and Ronaldo.

But all of these accolades cannot top Owen’s performance against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. I will never forget the fear in the eyes of the Argentinean defenders as Owen picked up the ball in the halfway circle and then unleashed his pace, him driving forward, the Argentinean defence in disarray, drawing further and further back until it was too late. The ball was in the back of the net. Twenty seconds was all it took for Michael Owen to announce his arrival on the world stage.

Earthly pressures apply to all men, but with Owen they seemed to be applied quicker and with more effect. The striker’s move to Newcastle United will probably turn out to be the biggest mistake of his career. With sleeping giants, there is always the danger of being lured into thinking that the club is about to wake up. Well, as City fans well know, some clubs can take time to come to their senses.

Indeed, some clubs never stir at all.

Soon after Owen’s move Newcastle began to enter the era of paralysis that saw them relegated last season. The fortunes of club and player seemed to mirror each other. As Newcastle lurched and stuttered from one failure to the next, Owen fought his own battles in the guise of groin, ankle, thigh, hernia, metatarsal and knee ligament injuries, the latter of which I remember seeing in slow motion against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup. It was agonising to watch.

Gambling men
And then there was the question of Owen’s mindset. Was he more interested in betting on horse racing than in winning football matches? Was he more interested in the big pay packet at Newcastle rather than the strict training regime of David Moyes’ Everton? I find it impossible to deny. For me, mental and physical fitness are tightly bound together. If your head is not in the game and if your heart is not in the training, then you will not be resilient enough when the hard challenges come. That can only equal injury and moreover, the inability to recover quickly from injury.

So has Michael Owen really lost the spark that we all saw ignite against Argentina in 1998? Possibly. With all those injuries, he has certainly lost his speed.

But speed does not count for everything. No matter how much of a crock Owen really is, he will never lose that instinct for the net. His bread and butter is scoring goals and for as long as he plays, at whatever level he plays, he will always threaten to poach.

What if Owen had chosen the Blue side of Manchester? Something tells me that I would not have been filled with confidence. I would be expecting another injury plagued season. Maybe he would’ve been expecting it himself. Let’s face it, it would certainly have fit with the ‘typical-City’ tag that Shaun Wright-Philips spoke of shedding recently.

No such tag has existed at United for the past twenty years, and that is probably the reason why we see pictures of Owen holding a red scarf above his head finding it impossible to contain his joy. Perhaps he senses that he has finally found the environment he has been seeking ever since he left Liverpool in 2004.

But nothing is certain. Ferguson and Owen are both known gamblers. And they have both thrown the dice again with this transfer. Ferguson apparently always saw Owen as the one talent that got away, and being the old footballing romantic that Ferguson is, it is no surprise that he has gambled – perhaps for the last time – on this move. BBC sports journalist Phil McNulty summed it up well when he asked the question: “Is this a sign of desperation creeping into United's transfer dealings or another piece of inspiration from the gambler Ferguson?”. I am sorry to be the pessimist, but I fear that Owen’s move may well be the latter.

We should not underestimate how much of a gamble this is for Michael Owen. This is most definitely his last throw of the dice. Perhaps this shows more than anything else that Owen’s spark and determination have returned? It is quite simply all or nothing. If Michael Owen fails at Old Trafford, his glory days will be well and truly behind him. But if he succeeds, come next May he will most likely be entertaining the thought of securing his first Premiership title. Who knows, a month later he could even be on that plane to South Africa.

Apologies all round for tainting this blog with the colour of the devil.


  1. It all depends on his fitness. If he breaks down again quite early on, forget about it. Within a couple of years, he could be playing in MLS for the Florida Bushfires or whatever. However, if he gets fit and Ferguson gives him a chance, he could shine. His scoring ratio for the Toon wasn't bad at all when he actually had a run, and at Real Madrid he had the best goals-to-minute ratio in Spain, despite being almost exclusively a sub.

    There's the other factor that if he can gel with Rooney at United, he'll almost certainly be in South Africa next year. Look at our options beyond Rooney - lousy, lousy. Where are the great English goalscorers? Owen's never had much natural ability, and his pace is long gone, but I'd rather see him in S. Africa than Agbonlahor or Crouch.

    Remember Glenn Hoddle's famous quote in '98? "Owen is not a natural goalscorer..." Yeah, right, and he'll still break Bobby Charlton's record!

  2. Anonymous11/7/09 23:31

    Why dont we keep this site as "All Things Blue" dont want any RAG commentary here. !!!!!!. It will spoil such an imformative and challenging blog !!!!

  3. Funny how when we were rumoured to be interested it was a 'panic buy', now Sir Alligs takes a chance on him and it's 'great business'!