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With Darren Fletcher reported to have been granted a free transfer from Manchester United, Adam Bate looks back at his career at Old Trafford.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at some of football's pundits and commentators and try to pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week it's "Oh Mickey, he's so fine, he's so fine he blows my mind. Hey Mickey." Owen, that is.
The very definition of sensible. Hair unchanged across the years, not short enough to be intimidating, not long enough to be scruffy. He has a classic wardrobe, possibly bought from one of those conservative, expensive menswear shops in Chester that sees no shame in dressing young men as though they were 70. Wears whatever it takes to be anonymous and to blend in. Is not offended by the word blouson, nor by beige. Owns slacks. And driving gloves. Loves a blazer. A sports casual god.
Anyone with 'real' pace, as opposed to that fake pace we see so much. (Michael would not understand this joke.) Goals scored from three yards ("they all count").
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strength: being a plain man, with little time for the flowery, the impressionistic or the avant-garde. If you like your punditing done in the accepted lingua franca of the game, Michael is your man. He conforms. He is not going to frighten the horses. This is a strength to some.
Of course, this is also a huge weakness. We have sat and listened to his work for months now and we seriously doubt he has ever said a sentence that at some point did not contain a football cliché or a default football expression.
He's so assuredly down-the-middle-of-the-fairway with his observations and choice of language that it feels like his speech is produced by a random generator that has been programmed with every overused expression and now pumps them out on demand. The lack of original thought and expression to go with it is a jaw-dropping art-form of which he is the primo exponent. You'd think he might accidentally say something off-beat or odd but, no.
We're genuinely not trying to be unkind here, but Owen also has a really boring voice. In fairness to him, he is going for voice coaching, and you cannot criticise a man for trying to better himself, but good grief he is a monotonous fellow.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
We doubt that Michael knows much about tactics and why would he? For most of his career he had one ploy: hang on the shoulder of the last defender and run fast towards the goal. This fact appears to have rendered knowledge of anything else in the game redundant. Or maybe he's a student of the game, who knows? The point is that he cannot or will not communicate it to the punter.
Leg squeezer geezer?
No. The man we once called England's Michael Owen is not one of those joshy, laddy ex-pros. He's not alpha male enough for that and seems a bit... not intellectual as such, but studious. (We acknowledge this is possibly the only time that the word "intellectual" will be used in connection with Mr O.)
You can imagine EMO as the school head boy, not thick or naughty, quietly doing his homework on time and secretly really enjoying Geography. He seems very traditional lower middle-class and a little too well-spoken to have any street-cred or tough ass smarts. He's not "one of the boys" in the birds 'n' booze sense. It is hard to imagine him in a drinking contest with Peter Reid, which is the litmus test for ex-pro footballers and their Great Value In The 19th Hole status.
We suspect Mickey likes a bit of banter, or at least banter at the more milky end of the acid tongue. Gentle joshing about how wives like shopping, the wet weather in Manchester and why the new BMW Thunderhumper isn't as good as the new Mercedes Powergusset is his gig. A pal wearing a brightly coloured shirt could provide him with hours of bantering fun.
His prime form of defence against critics is to quote all his spectacular career stats, which he knows off by heart. His Twitter account reveals a sometimes surprisingly gauche man who sometimes can't spot when people are being ironic; re-tweeting piss-takes as though they are compliments. Aw. That makes us feel a bit sad.
An absolute master. He has so comprehensively embraced football clichés that they comprise 100% of his utterances. In EMO's world, all big men have good feet, he's seen them given, he's gone down too easily, it's a soft one and we don't want to see that. On and on and on he goes. A living and breathing lexicon of football-speak.
Why does he get gigs?
He's a nice man. Plainly. Unlike many a footballer or ex-footballer, you feel you could invite Owen around and he wouldn't drink all the advocaat, vomit in the fish tank and try to have a go on your wife. He might sit for 10 hours on your sofa watching darts, do the washing up and then take your dog for walk.
He is super safe and super reliable. There'll be no silliness, no rudeness if you employ Michael. He'll also try very hard to be good with all the determined professionalism of a man brought up with the competitive spirit as the prime motivator for human existence.
We might see his every utterance as over-worn football talk, but others see this as merely using the appropriate language for the occasion. He talks like a football man and so he is employed to talk about football and we suspect a lot of people rather like him for that. The people who have made him one of the most high profile pundits in Britain within just a year or two of retirement must have done it for a reason. After all, vanilla isn't the most popular flavour of ice cream for no reason...
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, are here.