At the 1983 British General Election, Labour were almost wiped from the electoral map by a Conservative Party high on the fumes of their peculiar war with Argentina in the South Atlantic. Afterwards, their election manifesto was famously described by the Shadow Home Secretary Gerald Kaufman as “the longest suicide note in history”. For some reason, this little historical titbit sprang to mind when it became public earlier this week that Michael Owen’s management company has sent out a brochure to Premier League clubs after he failed to land himself a new contract in the first few weeks of the summer break. By all accounts (and we’re having to go on tantalising scraps at the moment, as the brochure has not as yet been leaked onto the internet in full) it’s a thirty-four page glossy extravaganza, and the very fact that it exists at all is a such a fantastic teaser that is almost unbearable. How much, dear reader, would you love to read “Michael Owen – The Catalogue”?
Primarily, there is the small matter of how exactly you sell a striker earning £105,000 per week who has scored just twenty-six goals in four years. Perhaps he’s willing to take a pay cut to £70,000 per week or £80,000 per week. After all, this may be the tipping point for clubs deciding whether he’s likely to offer value for money or not. Of course, it will probably make a great play of the fact that he scored forty goals in eighty-nine matches for England, but it may choose to omit the fact that he was omitted from the team for their friendly match again Germany last year when both Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey were out injured. Perhaps there’s a four page centre-piece called “That Goal Against Argentina”, which features a number of C-List celebrities describing how they felt as young Michael slalomed through the stricken Albiceleste defence to score the goal of his life.
Regardless of any other considerations, however, thirty-four pages sounds like a lot. It’s probably safe to assume that there will be plenty of photograph but there must be other features contained therein. It would nice to see an article about his knee, possibly with an attached x-ray confirming conclusively that it is not held together with bits of sellotape and blu-tack. Hopefully there’s a classified advert section in which his fellow Newcastle stars (who, let’s not forget, are all looking for Premier League contracts on the back of their performances last season) get the chance to tout themselves. How would Joey Barton persuade a Premier League manager on a tight budget that he was worth £60,000 per week and that this time he was definitely going to go straight? One imagines that any contract negotiations for him this summer would most likely resemble scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” in which Morgan Freedman’s character is interviewed for parole. Perhaps he has written a wordsearch for it.
Of course, the fact that it has come to this for Michael Owen is largely due to the downward spiral that his career. Michael Owen was dependent on two aspects to his game – pace and what is known colloquially as “the poacher’s instinct”. The pace has largely gone. Age alone would have seen to that, never mind the injury list. As for “the poacher’s instinct”, well, it’s debatable whether this alone would ever have guaranteed twenty goals per season, but it’s less certain than ever than it would now. Strikers now need to be more complete players than they used to be. The days of the likes of Gary Lineker toe-poking thirty goals per season from four yards out may be gone forever. Nowadays, players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard score twenty goals per season from midfield. The Premier League, one suspects, has moved on from Michael Owen.
The way out for Michael Owen is to abandon all hope of one final massive pay day and drop down a division or two. He has probably earned enough money to retire upon (presuming it hasn’t all gone on the gee gees) and now, at the age of twenty-nine, a season in, say, League One, scoring a few goals might even see him get a better contract. Most importantly of all for Michael, it might be fun. He’d have the chance to hve a final flourish before the difficult becomes that impossible, and it might even wipe that hangdog look (which seems to have become his trademark over the last couple of years or so) off his face.