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Injuries took their toll on Owen's career

TEAMtalk guest Simon Stone feels Michael Owen's glittering career is also tinged with regret following his injury-plagued absences.

Last Updated: 19/03/13 at 14:11 Post Comment

Michael Owen: Reached a peak so high few will ever reach

Michael Owen: Reached a peak so high few will ever reach

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When Michael Owen's characteristically predatory instincts allowed him to score twice in the opening half hour of England's Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia at Wembley in September 2007, two things appeared certain.

First, England were going to coast into their first tournament under new coach Steve McClaren.

Secondly, Owen - then on 40 goals - was destined to get the 10 more required to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton as the most prolific goalscorer in Three Lions history.

That the initial aim did not come to pass remains a matter of regret for McClaren but no one else. That the second didn't is far greater cause for lament given it prevented one of the finest players of his generation from fulfilling his immense ability.

Owen would argue that it is not as simple as that.

In the six years since that night under the massive Wembley arch, he got his hands on the Premier League title, won the League Cup, was on the bench for a Champions League final and scored a goal against Manchester City that will go down in Red Devils folklore.

Those three years at Old Trafford alone are more than most players will ever achieve.

But Owen was never most players.

Not from his emergence as a teenager at Liverpool, not after that goal against Argentina at France 98.

The sight of Owen slaloming past Roberto Ayala and Jose Chamot before rattling home a stupendous finish, aged just 18, is an indelible moment of English football history.

That England drew that match and went out of the tournament on penalties is a mere side issue. Owen's popularity was confirmed and he finished the year as BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

As Owen's career continued, the goals and the honours piled up.

He had already scored on his Liverpool debut and won the Premier League's Golden Boot prize, an accolade he retained the season after that epic World Cup moment.

In 2001 Owen scored in the UEFA Cup final, and twice in the FA Cup final as Liverpool recorded their historic Treble under Gerard Houllier.

After that came his momentous contribution to that jaw-dropping 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, a hat-trick voted amongst the top 20 moments of the decade by one leading newspaper.

Owen's abilities had now gripped a continent, allowing him to become the first English winner of the European Footballer of the Year award since Kevin Keegan.

Yet the injuries that would ultimately become as synonymous with Owen's career as anything he did on the pitch were also starting to bite.

It started with a hamstring tear suffered at Leeds before Owen had even celebrated his 20th birthday.

The problem kept him out for five months, and started what was to be a recurring theme.

Owen didn't like it of course. Players hate the label 'injury-prone' and for good reason.

But how else do you assess repeated hamstring problems, an ankle injury that kept him out for three months and affected him for some time afterwards, a thigh injury that ruined the start of his Newcastle career, snapped cruciate ligaments at the 2006 World Cup and surgery on a double-hernia.

It is a measure of Owen's abilities that Sir Alex Ferguson was prepared to overlook all this to sign him in 2009, allowing the Chester-born player to get his hands on the league title that eluded him for so long.

Yet the brutal truth is that since he returned to England from Real Madrid in 2005, Owen has featured in just 138 Premier League games, a pitiful figure over such a long period of time.

Various theories have been put forward for such a chronic return, most notably being so significantly over-played during those crucial formative years.

Always the most level-headed of characters, Owen has long since outlined a disinclination to drop down through the leagues in his latter days, preferring instead to concentrate on his love of horse racing and the training empire he is building in rural Cheshire.

He has also branched out into media work and is making a name for himself as a perceptive pundit.

It is only to be expected of someone who reached a peak so high few will ever reach.

Yet as the news sinks in that his last days will be spent at Stoke, where he probably won't play much, Owen's career is one tinged with regret.

For it seems unfair a player whose greatest moment came at 18 should also be remembered for the time he spent in the treatment room.

By Simon Stone, PA Sport

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