James Lawton: Liverpool add sorry postscript to the tale of Michael Owen's under-appreciated gifts

The striker was quickly taken for granted and too quickly discounted

Glenn Hoddle once announced that he was not a natural goalscorer – shortly before the 18-year-old illuminated the 1998 World Cup with the strike of the tournament.Gérard Houllier insisted he take his place in a rotation system which also included Emile Heskey. As England manager, Kevin Keegan preferred Andy Cole.

Rafa Benitez packed him off to Real Madrid virtually sight-unseen. He substantially wrecked himself on behalf of England at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, four years after the one in which he scored against Brazil a trademarked goal that briefly, hauntingly, seemed to open up the way to the final.

Then Fabio Capello, who at times seemed inclined to act as Wayne Rooney's glorified manservant, officially consigned him to the international junkyard.

If English football still has any powers of reflection, this week it had plenty of reasons for regrets about Michael Owen – and certainly not too few to mention.

The latest surely came when Liverpool's owner John W. Henry, in an extremely dull-witted communiqué on the reasons why his new manager Brendan Rodgers had been left so inadequately covered after dispatching Andy Carroll to West Ham United, explained that the club was no longer in the market for "quick-fix" solutions.

That the former hero of Anfield and now free agent, the kid who once promised to smash every scoring record of Liverpool and England, had been passed on so that he could sign for Premier League rivals Stoke, was not universally condemned on Merseyside.

Some pointed out that it could not be forgotten that he had spent the last three years of his dramatically diminished football life in the occasional service of Manchester United. Others said only time-expired sentiment would have justified Owen's return.

There is, however, another interpretation. It says that one man's sound business instinct is another's failure of imagination.

The latter verdict is certainly the one favoured here.

Another conclusion has to be that Owen was never quite appreciated for what he was – a natural scorer of astonishing precocity who ran so fast, so acutely, that English football, having quickly taken him for granted, too quickly discounted his unique value.

While David Beckham acquired the aura, Michael Owen did the business and not least on that unforgettable, humid night in Saint-Étienne when Beckham received one of the most gratuitous red cards in the history of football and Owen ran through Argentina for the goal which prompted Cesare Maldini, father of Paolo and then coach of Italy, to shake his head at the slowness of England's appreciation of quite what they had at their disposal.

Maldini's feeling was shared by all those dismayed by the sluggish pace of Hoddle's international grooming of the wunderkind who had been a sensation in his first season in Premier League football.

Owen was on the bench for the opening game against Tunisia, coming on in the last five minutes of a laboured performance in Marseilles and had a little longer (17 minutes) in the second match, a 2-1 defeat by Romania. In that time Owen scored an equaliser and in added time smacked a shot against a post. It was hard to imagine a point ever made quite so emphatically on an international field by someone so young.

He did something similar in the Stade de France a couple of years later when Keegan elected to go with Cole in a prestige friendly. Cole misfired, Owen came on and scored brilliantly, then ran back to the centre circle without the merest glance at the England bench.

There was also considerable vindication at Real Madrid, where he scored 18 goals from 41 games, only 15 of which he started. He returned to England with Newcastle in possession of La Liga's highest ratio of goals to the number of minutes played.

Most of the rest, of course, is pretty bleak history dominated by the heavy injuries which followed his youthful trials by hamstring. A combination of broken metatarsal and torn cruciate ligaments wiped away his last chances of smashing Sir Bobby Charlton's England scoring record – the challenge was aborted at 40 goals in 89 games, 10 short of a unique place in English football history.

The argument that the best of Owen flew away when he lost that first, blinding turn of speed, is hard to counter but, like the old fighter who knows that his last asset will always be his punch, Owen continues to believe in his ability to score vital goals. It is, after all, a talent that comes not in some coaching manual or training field but in the cradle.

This immutable fact only makes still more bizarre, at a time of aching transition, Liverpool's rejection of an old but potentially still effective icon. The mystery deepened during Sun-day's defeat by Arsenal, when neither Luis Suarez, for all his creative impu-lses, nor Fabio Borini, ever looked likely to land a significant punch.

Would Owen have made any kind of difference? It is reasonable to believe so. He would have brought, certainly, a high level of professional pride and the last of the instincts of a natural-born predator.

It was said of the sumptuously gifted midfielder Charlton that he was a scorer of great goals.

Owen was, of course, a great goal-scorer in whom maybe too many in English football did not believe in quite enough. It has to be sad that the club he served most brilliantly has added its name to the list.

 



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas