They say it feels like a flash in the pan and its over before you know it. A world filled with excitement and thrills where every year the chance of glory awaits. The modern day professional footballer experiences a life filled with riches and glamour, it’s obviously a highly profitable but short career.
These days most people in the real world who are close to the half century of their journey will probably be retiring in their 60’s. Scarily most people of my age will be working until they drop dead but given a rare day off near the end to craft their own coffins and dig their own graves due to the fall of the government as there will be no money left in the pot and the rich will have deserted this broken country and moved for a life in England 2.0 but that’s another story for another day.
Generally, top footballers find their playing careers over when their reaching their mid 30’s (A certain Welsh wizard being the exception to the rule) and can choose to retire at the top or drop down ungracefully from league to league, year after year until they seem slower than Gareth Barry with a broken leg. With no other skills or usually no noticeable intelligence for that matter they are left with no job and no income. I know what you’re thinking: ‘How unfortunate, these poor men must be starving,’ well not quite. Of course there is a glimmer of hope, they can get that illustrious shiny role on the BBC or on sky sports where they talk about football in such dull a tone and slow speed whilst gasping for air that you feel you are watching a man having a slow drawn out heart attack on live TV (if only it was something so exciting).
Unfortunately not all players are given this general vision of the end of their career, in the curious case of Michael Owen his career seemed to go on forever, with every season he was denying to the world and himself the fact that his legs retired in 2006. He must look at those legs from time to time and plead with them to respond, those legs that once ruled Europe and slayed any opponent who dared approach the ball at their feet. These days though Michael’s legs strangely resemble that of a pack mule crippling under the strain and the the only response he seems to receive from them is ‘Look Michael for the last time I’ll kick all you want but I’m not running’.
In 2005 he spent a fairly successful but unnoticed season at Real Madrid in La Liga. He ended the season with the highest ratio of goals scored to number of minutes played (those minutes were short), he scored 18 goals from 41 games, 15 of which were starts. However his profile outside of the game was a mouse among elephants and didn’t stand tall enough for the fickle Real Madrid fans as the only one in the Bernabeu stadium who seemed to own an Owen shirt was the man himself and so after just one season he packed his trunk and said goodbye to the circus.
As history tells it he saw the job advertisement in the paper that read ‘Job available, an Alan Shearer is needed at Newcastle due to the current one running himself into the ground for an impossible dream, must have experience and believe that a Premiership position is for life not just for a successful season’. Michael seemed perfect for the position due to his experience, his winning ways and being unaware of what relegation meant. It seemed like a match made in heaven, until of course the football side of it came into play.
Michael, why oh why did you ever choose to step on that special fibre-sand grass surface at Newcastle’s ‘state of the art’ training facility? You should have been wrapping those legs in cotton wool like the newspapers always stated before an international tournament. So true was the case that in 2006 Graeme Souness ordered the team to abandon the pitch and move to the under 21’s training ground as he had several players out with hamstrings and groin strains (Michael included). Unfortunately Souness’ gain was Glenn Roeder’s Academy player’s loss as he moved his junior players onto the pitch and suffered in a similar way.
The Newcastle training pitch has long been known to be an elephant graveyard which is a place where, according to legend, older elephants instinctively direct themselves when they reach a certain age. They then die there alone, far from the group. Unfortunately for Michael that pitch was just the tipping point and majority of the damage was already done in his early days. Due to being so good at such a young age he was playing up to 80 games a season for age ranges above his own as a child. This continued into his teens and early professional career, ‘Because of this I would play a full season with Liverpool and then, when everyone else wrapped up their best youngsters on a summer break, I was playing for England, sometimes three years above my age group. This continued for a few years. I played week in, week out, without a break for years.’
He moved from Newcastle leaving the Geordies angry about various things such as being relegated, being too big for the championship and they probably thought it was all Michaels fault. He took what was left of him to sparsely appear for Manchester United and grabbed the odd headline for his couple of seasons whilst picking up a League Champions medal for doing little to nothing. Then when he limped over to Stoke it was clear for all to see that it was the end of his footballing days (as it is for all Stoke players). It’s sad for the player and the country as he should be playing out his best years for a top club and England but unfortunately it’s just one of those things where the light that burns brightest burns twice as fast.
These days players are handled with kid gloves from a young age, you cannot lay blame on Liverpool as he was an asset to be used and used regularly as when at war you don’t leave your biggest cannons at home but you can’t blame Michael either as any young kid could not turn down a second of football even if it’s just a kick about at the park or a certain international game against Argentina.
If you have read this far I know what you’re thinking, why hasn’t he mentioned all those successful years pre-2006 and only focused on the bad half of his career? What about Liverpool, with all the goals he scored and not to mention his days in an England shirt where big goals came as the standard? I for one have been a big fan of his over the years, he is one of my favourite players of all time and there used to be nothing sweeter in the game than a Michael Owen goal. Yes they were memorable days for sure however due to the last 7-8 years of excessive injury milestones (a new one for every club) those golden moments just seem like ancient history. It’s as though the injuries have put all the special things he created to the bottom of the toy box and until he ‘officially’ retires at the end of the season I don’t feel I’m ready to play with them just yet.
David Gouldson is 28 years old and lives in Hull. He is an argumentative sod and he supports Manchester United. He knows a lot about Bob Dylan and is a skilled gambler. He used to be in a band who did a decent cover of Secret Agent Man by Blues Traveller. He and Mr Miles have been known to argue bitterly for hours on the issue of England’s greatest ever left-back.