Signs, signs everywhere the signs of my advancing age; a receding hairline balanced by a protruding gut, drinking wine instead of whiskey, a fine familiarity of the full line of muscle balm products, wheezing to keep up in my Saturday league games, and now watching a Premier League legend my age make his season debut in a Carling Cup 3rd round tie.
Michael Owen scored a brace against Leeds United yesterday but it came in a game where Sir Alex Ferguson experimented wildly with his team sheet. Owen, 32 in December, will forever be defined by a night when he was all of 18. Already a teenage sensation for Liverpool, he took his rightful place in a star-studded England lineup against Argentina on June 30, 1998 in St. Etienne, France. In the 16th minute he expertly controlled a leading ball from David Beckham, fought off Jose Chamot then froze Roberto Ayala with a slight jerk to the left, allowing him to continue charging towards his right for a fantastic finish. I watched that match in a pub on Euston Road near University College London where I was “studying.” Even after that heartbreaking shootout loss, the crowd was still buzzing about Owen’s wonderstrike. It was still the era of Tony Blair, Cool Britannia, Britpop, Beckham, Shearer, Scholes and Owen. Anything seemed possible.
It’s now 13 years later. Of that 1998 World Cup squad, only Owen and Rio Ferdinand still play. And while Owen can look back upon the Ballon d’Or, the F.A. Cup, being Liverpool’s 7th all-time goalscorer and England’s 4th all-time goalscorer, it still feels as if his accomplishments are only a hint of what he could have realized were it not for his innumerable injuries. An American analogy would be Ken Griffey, Jr.
Highlights of Owen’s career remain riveting entertainment but his story isn’t over yet. Sir Alex currently suffers from an embarrassment of riches so Owen spends what little time he has left soaking in the first team’s exploits from one of the best seats in Old Trafford. Selfishly, I’d like to see him move onto another club where he can resume his riveting raids on goal, if only to vicariously feel part of the current again.