Earlier this week I was a little upset by the majority reaction of the Manchester United fans to Michael Owen’s decision to join Stoke City. Admittedly his time at Old Trafford wasn’t the incredible glowing success that it could have been, but was it really the car-crash failure that some would have you believe and, just as importantly, was it Michael’s fault that it didn’t work out perfectly?
I can’t even think about Michael these days without jumping immediately to the 94th minute against City. Giggs threads the ball through, Owen takes a touch inside the box and toe-pokes it into the bottom corner. We win 4-3. I have almost never seen Old Trafford explode as violently or as joyously.
Never mind the injuries, loss of form, interest in horses and inclusion on the bench in the Champions League final against Barcelona. For me, that one priceless, priceless moment balanced out all of the negatives in the space of one skipped heartbeat.
Not that everything Owen ever did for us was bad. He’s got five Premier League goals for us; aside from the City winner he rescued us a point late against Bolton. He also equalized Villa’s opening goal in League Cup final that we went on to win, although the fact that he soon limped off with a hamstring injury was much more indicative of his time with us.
The League Cup was kind to Owen. One of the better players in our second string, he was a regular scorer in that competition even aside from his goal in the final. He also has a Champions League hat-trick for us, away to Wolfsburg.
Of course, injury has hugely hampered his time with us as it has with Newcastle and England. Just when it looked like he had turned a corner with that goal in the League Cup final, his season abruptly ended. He suffered from niggle after niggle thereafter, and was restricted to a solitary appearance in the league last season, in part due to his poor fitness record.
This aside, the main reason that he’s not played much of a role is simply because we have had better strikers. The emergence of Chicharito, Welbeck and, to an extent, Macheda combined with the pre-eminence of Rooney and Berbatov has meant that he’s always had a fight on his hands to get into the team in the first place. Owen returned to fitness at the end of last season but, embroiled in a title battle, Fergie just couldn’t find a way to include him. Can we really hold it against a player that he didn’t score enough goals for us because superior players were getting into the team instead? What crazy logic is that?
I don’t see how any of this is Owen’s fault and I don’t think it’s fair that he’s recieved such abuse, or indeed any abuse at all. Just as the denser of Newcastle’s fans labelled Owen as a mercenary simply because he suffered a serious injury on England duty and missed games, our bottom stream seem to think he’s some kind of Glazer stooge, a symbol of “Glazernomics” who’s taken up a space in the squad that would otherwise have belonged to Ronaldo.
Whenever Owen has played for Manchester United, he gave it his all and never rocked the boat. This is all that I’m bothered about. He was no world beater for us, but we’ve signed better players who delivered less. Owen arrived as a backup player, a gamble. He was never going to be more, but could very easily have proven to be less. In the end, he pretty much precicely filled the role of fourth choice forward. He was there when we needed him, chipped in with a goal or two when never, and can claim the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer award for never, ever pissing anyone off.
His United career will always be simplified when history is written. It will be reduced to precicely five seconds, beginning when Ryan Giggs picked up the ball in midfield and ending as Owen wheeled away behind the goal. It won’t be remembered that he struggled with injury, was often left out for superior players and wasn’t earning a kings random either. It’s peverse that, whilst Berbatov was busy winning the Golden Boot precidely because Owen wasn’t taking his place in the team, some fans still feel the need to criticse Owen for not delivering.
He’s not the player he was. There are legimiate doubts that he’s even a Premiership player any more – we’ll find that out in the coming months. That’s no reason to hold him in such low regard because if there is anything that Michael Owen definitely still is then it is the model professional.
All the best at Stoke, lad. Thanks for the memory.