Me and Michael Owen

Michael Regan

England's fourth highest goalscorer's retirement causes remembrance of some great goals, hostile tweets, surprisingly impressive moustache-growth and some reflections on a career's-worth of football supporting.

And so it’s happened. It’s happened at last! Confounded by the unexpected longevity of David Beckham and the un-put-downability of Paul Scholes, I have finally outlived a soccering superstar I knew from the beginning: God speed thee Michael Owen and God bless.

Michael James Owen debuted for Liverpool on the 6th of May 1997; when I was eleven and allowed to stay up for Match of the Day (or, rather, the little bit of Match of the Day appended onto the end of Sportscene). I could tell you that I remember his debut goal – against Wimbledon – but I’d be lying. I don’t. Let’s say I decided to lie though, here’s what I’d go for: someone, let’s say Jamie Redknapp (he’d have been injured, but this is a lie so let’s lay it on thick), has played a through-ball into the inexplicably vacant Wimbledon half; young Michael, whippet-like, has hared onto it, opened his body and…. Goal!!! That’s what I’d say because, in all likelihood, that’s what happened.

I’d’ve almost gotten away with my lie; Jamie Redknapp (literally) screwed me. He was injured. Stig Inge Bjørnebye (isn’t it nice to be reminded of his contribution to English football?) did the assistive honours (2:30, here).

Opposition halves seem much more densely populated now than in Owen’s late-nineties heyday. Like a mid-Victorian farmhand finding himself in the metropolis, Owen had to reinvent himself. The green green grass into which he had hared was there no more; MO’s m.o. was an anachronism.

Because of a creaking, weakening body, that reinvention never really got going. It has felt like he has been retired, or at least semi-retired, for some time. 8, 3, 2, 0, 1; so read his Premier League goal tallies for the last five seasons (optimistically/sardonically, the person who has put a video of the last of these on YouTube has catalogued it as "Michael Owen’s First Goal for Stoke"). When he tells us, on his personal website, that "It is with an immense amount of pride that I am announcing my intention to retire from Professional Football at the end of this season", we wonder if the pride is deliberately being found in the announcement (as the semantics suggest) rather than in the Professional Football achievements.

All of which, however, is to unfairly belittle some of Owen’s legitimately weighty cpntributions to the game . While it is, of course, ludicrously offensive to pretend that his World Cup ’98 goal against Argentina was the superior of Dennis Bergkamp’s, it is ruddy excellent and we are talking about an Englishman who, in 2001, was named European Footballer of the Year. It is orthodox to describe him as bland (he is bland), but he remains one of almost no English footballers to have at least given Abroad a go. He’s good for a larf in aid of a good cause. He is an outspoken critic of The Most Annoying Man on Television. These are good and commendable things. They bespeak, however, not a full career trajectory, but rather a beginning and an end. Looking back now, as his retirement invites us to do, we can think of Owen as a man with no middle. Whereas Scholes, or Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – the heirs to his elder statesman throne and the Michael Owens of a generation a year or two younger than mine – settled into middle periods of consistently reliable and influential excellence, Owen never had that. His was a career that started brightly and ended in the vagueness of semi-celebrity. We can acknowledge both, but we need only remember the first. And then he really was bright.

I always thought that living all the way through a career would make me sad, feel old. But it hasn't. I feel invigorated. Alive! I feel like I have come of age as a football fan. Good bless you (the) Michael Owen. And God speed.

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