I decided that after an evening of cluttering people’s timelines (on twitter) with my pro-Owen (would prOwen have been a good play on words? I decided not to risk it) comments it was time to put them into a more structured rant. Plus it’s been far too long since I’ve made time to blog. So, here goes: I think Michael Owen not only made the right decision in taking Manchester United’s offer of a contract extension, I also think United made the right decision in offering him it.
I’ll cover the second point first because it’s my blog and I feel like it…Michael Owen has barely played this year, is getting advanced in years and is a little bit on the injury prone side. However, whilst he doesn’t have the same pace that he used to, he does still posses a fine footballing brain (if only we could give it to Bebe) and given a chance one on one with the keeper there aren’t many players I’d rather have in that position. Sir Alex has pointed out that the form of Hernandez this season has made him nearly impossible to drop whilst Rooney has been un-dropable since Ronaldo left. Next season however it would be surprising if Hernandez is able to hit quite the same highs, even though I’d love it if he could. It’ll be important to protect the young Mexican, something Ferguson is notoriously good at. Owen, if he can stay fit, could be a useful player. The other reason I think Owen will be useful for United is the experience that he can pass on to younger players in the squad. His predatory movement is sensational and although it looks like he’s out of a game for long periods, often he’s just finding that chink. Oh and if, as rumoured he’s still on a deal based largely around goal and appearance bonuses then for United they really lose very little by keeping him on.
Now, with that part covered I’d like to defend Michael Owen’s part in this decision. Owen tweeted, and I believe his wording was slightly ill advised (there have been far worse twitter slip ups), “Just to answer some of your tweets. Prefer playing less often in a top team than every game in a poor team. Been there a didn’t enjoy it”. Plenty of people have jumped in and translated that as him being either a mercenary, lacking in ambition or just plain lazy and happy to collect an easy pay day whilst showing no desire to play more for the love of the game.
So far not a single club that I’m aware of has come in and made an offer for Owen’s services despite him being available on a Bosman. But let’s just imagine for a second that a mid-table or relegation battling team came in and offered Owen a contract. He’d be expected to play far more games and for the sake of the team would need to. He would most likely get injured. Rushed back too quickly, injured again. He’d be considered a flop and fans would be on his back. That’s the most likely scenario anyway. Owen is still a class finisher but he doesn’t exactly run the line the way he used to and doesn’t bully defenders the way a centre forward is often expected to at a struggling club. When used as an impact sub for United that isn’t a problem. The service will be there for him, he’ll just be expected to stay fit and score goals.
In terms of lacking ambition, is it better for him to bugger off to a small side and make more appearances or to stay at United, try and stay clear of injury and try and earn himself another league medal, because as he freely admits he wasn’t the most deserving this time round. Surely that’s admirable? Sir Alex Ferguson had that Sweedish God Henrik at the club for the shortest of loan spells but he had a massive impact on United’s season in a very short time, clearly Owen feels he can do the same and believes in himself at this level. For me, a lack of ambition would be going to Qatar or Saudi Arabia and collecting a huge cheque, or payment in thoroughbread horses for playing 20 games a season against old pros and novice players.
As for the mercenary accusation, any player is open to that allegation because of the astronomical wages that they earn, but what I find interesting is the fact that a player dis-respecting his club and manager by complaining about rotation, moaning that they should be playing all the time, that type of player is called un-professional and rightly so. But when a player is content with their role in the team, and as @ZonalMarking put it “aware of their limitations” then they are considered to be a mercenary.
During a brief chat about this a couple of points on this were raised that it seems to be more of an issue in England where there is a stigma of giving your absolute all for the team involving playing a record number of games. Surely being there to support the team when you are needed, even if you aren’t a “star player” is giving a great service to the team as well? People often talk about unsung heroes, and given his lack of appearances last season I’m not even going to try and call Michael Owen that, but why can’t it be commendable to play a supporting role at the best club in the country and the second best in Europe this season? Would John O’Shea be better having 500 appearances for a smaller club and no medals or all his medals and 255 league appearances for United? To me, that’s not lacking ambition, that’s having the temperament to accept your place in the team and the lack of ego to constantly try hard in training even if you know you may not be rewarded with a place in the team. Because Sir Alex wouldn’t tolerate slackers. Rest assured there is no way that contract extension would be offered if Owen wasn’t working in training, taking it easy and chatting about that mornings Racing Post.
A fine example of a player who’s made a remarkably similar decision and been greeted with a totally different response is Clarence Seedorf. Playing mostly from the bench last season, Seedorf has helped Milan to the Scudetto. He’s opted to stay on again this season for more of the same. Could he be playing 30 games at a far lower standard? Of course. But he wants a chance to continue at Milan, challenging for trophies and contributing where he can. I see nothing wrong with this in a player, especially when they reach a certain age. Owen, like Seedorf will continue to train hard, and work to make sure that when called upon they perform to their maximum, that’s the type of players that they are, I just hope Owen gets a few more chances to prove what he can do, even if it is only to provide respite to more lauded colleagues.
Oh and finally, I do think it was a little disrespectful to call Newcastle a poor team. Ill-advised comment perhaps, but certainly not an ill-advised contract.