Michael Owen has fired back at critics who claim he lacks ‘hunger’ for the game. But the 32-year-old striker has earned himself a reputation as one of the Premier Leagues most injury-prone players.
He said, "Criticism has to be something you can take, otherwise you're pretty much doomed," but took more personally questions raised about his desire:
"However, one point annoyingly kept rearing its head that I haven't got the passion anymore, prefer horses and have other things in my life. It feels like a slur on my character and integrity to hear people questioning my desire. To reach the highs that I have been fortunate enough to reach in my career, one thing you cannot lack is desire.”
This came after Owen missed Stoke City’s trip to Liverpool – he outlined his determination to be fit for their trip to Manchester United after the international break – both former clubs of the Englishman.
Owen began his career at Liverpool in 1996 and made himself a fans' favourite at the 1998 World Cup at the tender age of 18. He spent 8 years at Anfield until a lucrative move to Real Madrid proved too tempting an offer to turn down in 2004. However, he spent only one year in Spain, making just 36 appearances for Madrid.
He returned to the Premier League to join Newcastle United in 2005 where he remained for four years. But a string of injuries took their toll on the striker’s career.
Newcastle paid a record club fee of £16.8million to secure his services and just a few days after signing he suffered a thigh injury that saw him miss the start of the season. Just three months after returning from the injury, he suffered a broken metatarsal bone in his foot.
The subsequent surgery, and another one that followed, saw the striker out for 5 months of his first season for Newcastle. Owen then made a return to the England team in the 2006 World Cup but sustained damage to his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the first minute of England’s group match against Sweden.
Newcastle felt aggrieved by the FA who, at the time were paying just under half of Owen’s wages in compensation for his injury. The club demanded £20million compensation for his £10million replacement Obafemi Martins and the remainder to make up his salary costs that were paid whilst he was injured.
In the end, Newcastle settled for £7million from FIFA and the FA. Owen started his first game for Newcastle after his injury in April 2007 against Reading but was stretchered off less than a month later after suffering a concussion against Watford.
He then suffered a thigh injury in November 2007 that ruled him out for six weeks in an England friendly against Austria.
Owen, at the send of his contract at Newcastle, signed a two-year pay-as-you-play deal with Manchester United but, after initially making a comeback and a return to goal scoring form for United, he suffered a hamstring injury in February 2010, which ruled him out for the rest of the season.
The following year he warmed the United bench after suffering a minor groin injury. But returned and earned himself a Premier League winners medal.
Owen’s final game for United was in November 2011 in their Champion’s League game against Otelul Galati. He was substituted in the first half after pulling up with a thigh injury and in May 2012 Owen announced that United would not be offering him a contract extension, ending his association with the club.
Now at Stoke City on a one-year contract, he made his debut in a 1-1 draw against Manchester City and appeared again as a substitute against Chelsea but was unfit for their last match against Liverpool which would have been a return to his former club.
The striker has outlined his determination to be fit for Stoke’s clash with Manchester United and is adamant he will force his way into Tony Pulis’s team.
He said, “The lads are playing out of their skin at the moment so it's hard to get in the team, but my fitness is coming week by week and I am really excited about the challenge ahead.”
Whilst Pulis has faith in Owen to make a comeback, there are serious doubts as to his ability to remain fit after suffering so many injuries and, after spending so much time out of the game, questions have been raised about his ability to play frequently, consistently, and to find his form.
Should Michael Owen quit? Perhaps there’s life in the old dog yet.