The question is simple. Can Michael Owen still perform at the highest level? While many would say no, he’s past it, he’s too injury prone and when he is on the pitch he doesn’t do anything anyway, I tend to disagree. Yes Michael Owen is injury prone, it’s been well documented. Over the course of his career he has had some nasty injuries as well as picking up a succession of niggles and strains. But generally he has been unfortunate. The prime example of bad luck was sustaining severe knee ligament damage while on international duty at the 2006 World Cup when a minute into England’s group encounter with Sweden, he awkwardly twisted his knee and subsequently found himself sidelined for the best part of a year.
Ever since he first injured his hamstring in 1999 while playing for Liverpool, Owen has had injury after injury that has plagued his career. But here is why I still think Owen isn’t past it. When fit, Owen scores to put it simply. And I’m not just talking about the occasional tap in against weak opposition. When it matters Owen scores big goals in big games both domestically and internationally. I still think he is the best choice up front for England and think he would be worth taking a gamble on when his Newcastle contract expires in the summer.
Owen is the type of striker that is fast becoming extinct. He is a poacher, nothing more. For much of the game, he will be quiet and won’t really contribute a lot to general build up play in the way that modern strikers do such as Wayne Rooney. However, when the ball gets played into dangerous areas, he comes alive and is far more effective than most. One reason that he is effective is because he actually gets himself into the six yard box rather than still hanging around on the edge of the box or further away, still admiring the pass he made moments before.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think Rooney is a world class player but he doesn’t possess that knack for goal scoring that Owen does. In fact, very few players do. Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Filippo Inzaghi are other examples of strikers who thrive on scoring goals and little else. Like the aforementioned, Owen is a potent finisher who has proved time and time again that he only needs half a yard to punish a defence. Where as many strikers rely on their physical stature or blistering pace to get themselves a goal scoring opportunity, Owen’s sharpness of mind puts him one step ahead. This is the reason that many of his goals come from headers, because he reads the situation and gets across his marker before they’ve even had time to think.
From an England point of view, I think that Owen is a must for South Africa 2010, providing England qualify. It appears that Fabio Capello is uncertain about Owen and needs more convincing but I think he is undoubtedly the best option. Rooney and Heskey seem to be certainties for the squad, as does Walcott but considering the latter is more of a winger now, that would probably leave open two more places for strikers. Out of the possible contenders for the places, Owen’s goal scoring record outweighs the others by far. He has forty goals for his country in eighty nine appearances and has scored in every knock out game for England that he has played in. Someone like Defoe can score goals against weak nations such as Kazakhstan but is he really going to cause the Portuguese any problems? Even coming off the bench, I think when in desperate need of a goal Owen has to be the choice. In a tight match where chances are scarce, left foot, right foot or head, Owen is the person I would want to see presented with the opportunity to score as he is the most likely of all English forwards to put it in the net. To summarise, I think Owen is a long way off being ‘past it’ and as he has proved so many times before, those who write him off can do so at their peril.