Michael Owen announced today his intention of retiring from professional football at the end of this season.
At just 33 years of age the former England star striker, captain, double Golden Boot-winner, and European Player of the Year has had his career cut short by a succession of debilitating injuries.
Owen broke onto the scene at Liverpool at just 17 years of age and announced himself on the world stage with England at just 18 years old with his electrifying performances at World Cup 1998 in France.
Between the age of 17 and 21 Owen made 122 appearances for Liverpool and 32 appearances for England, totaling 154 appearances before he was even 22.
In April 1999 at the age of 19, Michael Owen suffered his first major injury – to his hamstring at Elland Road against Leeds United – he had already made 40 appearances for the Reds prior to the injury that season and scored 23 goals for his club.
He would however play no further part in Liverpool’s season and that injury would play a very big part in his career to follow.
Owen was England’s young starlet – he was then what Jack Wilshere is hailed as today – the most promising talent of his generation with the potential to be a world-beater.
At 21, Wilshere has already made 118 appearances between Arsenal, Bolton (on loan) England and England’s U21s and has already suffered three major injuries.
His ankle and knee kept him sidelined for the entire duration of last season and now the recurrence of that ankle injury this season will likely see him miss the rest of it, along with crucial qualifiers for England in the run-up to World Cup 2014.
Wilshere has made 26 appearances for Arsenals since his return to the first team in October little over 4 months ago. Upon his return Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger outlined his intention to err on the side of caution when it came to his prized number 10.
However, that hasn’t stopped the Arsenal manager, the England manager Roy Hodgson and even the U21’s coach Stuart Pearce from trying to include Wilshere in virtually every five-a-side game up and down the country.
Michael Owen said whilst at Manchester United that he agreed with Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion that he could have prolonged his career if his fitness had been managed more effectively when he was a young man.
"Sir Alex had made some comments suggesting that I would have been a better player had I been managed more effectively in the early part of my career," he started.
"I have to agree with most of what he said except the usage of the word 'better'. In my opinion, had I been managed differently I would have been at my best for longer as opposed to being a better player.
"As a youngster, I was considered exceptional and in many ways, that was to my detriment."
“I would play a full season with Liverpool and then once the season was over, while everyone wrapped their best youngsters up to have a summer break, I was jetting off to play for England, sometimes playing three years above my age group at the highest level. This continued for a few years. I played week in, week out without a break, for years."
Michael Owen’s retirement at the age of 33 should serve as a warning to Jack Wilshere and his Arsenal and England coaches – whilst Owen enjoyed the heights of stardom early on in his career, his light shone less brightly as his niggling injuries curtailed and eventually destroyed his career.
Owen has made just 11 appearances in the last two seasons for Manchester United and now Stoke. That’s unusual for a player of 31 or 32 – look at Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes who are still keeping up with 18-year-olds at 38 and 39 years of age.
Whilst youngsters whose lights shine so brightly are almost impossible to exclude from the team sheet, they must be taken care of by those entrusted with their fitness and well-being, or else their bright lights burnout.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald