Let this sit as a three part opus. One numerical evaluation of Michael Owen, one personal one, and one bonus feature.
Michael Owen In Numbers
Michael Owen scored a lot of goals. I make it 234 (so far) over his career. Obviously, 40 of those were for England, and so he could do it at high levels, too. His peak was, very definitely, the early part of the 2000s, when he was in his early 20s.
Here’s a graph detailing his career in terms of minutes played and goals per minute – all teams, all competition.
Those minutes, clearly, drop off after 2005, as injuries really took hold of his career. The fact that we sit here now 8 years after that only serve to do him credit. That dip, though, wasn’t the end of the story.
After 2009, he seems to have done well establishing himself as an impact substitute, and the goals per minute really improve again – he’s scored 28 goals since the summer of 2008, too, which is more than I would have guessed had I not looked.
I’ve drawn another graph here, which is basically the same figures taken as appearances and goals, but with polynomial trendlines on them – this really highlights how 2005 was a high watermark for Owen. His effectiveness, after that, might have remained, but his durability has diminished year on year on year. This summer probably is the right one for him to retire. He’s clearly taken his career to a natural conclusion and can look back on it with no little pride – the period between 1998 and 2005 particularly; 7 years in which he was up there amongst the best strikers in the world.
Well done, Michael.
Michael Owen In My Mind
I never rated Michael Owen.
I want to get that out there early because its true. I thought of him in the same way as I do Rafael Nadal. The way that they have to be as effective as they are is unsustainable for the human body. In Nadal’s case, his knees would never be up to the constant twisting and turning that he does at high tempo at the back of the court (he’s paying for that with injuries now) and with Owen, he was so reliant on his pace that I never saw enough – though he scored some glorious goals without; one against Luxembourg sticks in the mind – to suggest he would be able to cope if he could not run as quickly.
In honesty, that’s kind of how it happened for Michael. Possibly, Liverpool relied on him too quickly – he had played 102 games for club and country before he was 20 years old, and most of most of them – which wouldn’t have helped him in the long run, but ultimately (to me), he was a forward who was clinical when he’d broken into the clear, and was very good when he found space for himself, but was heavily reliant on his pace for both of those. As he lost his pace with injuries, he found it more and more difficult to be as effective as a striker.
There’s a difference, in my opinion between a Nadal and a Federer. Federer glides around the court serenely looking like he is making little or no effort to move as quickly as he does, and has time to do whatever he wants when he gets there. Nadal relies on pace, power and a combination of the two together. Often, that can be enough, which is good to win things, but its never as pleasant to watch.
I would draw the same comparison with Owen and, perhaps, Francesco Totti (who has been in the news recently, of course – congratulations to him for becoming Serie A’s second top scorer ever). Totti always had more to his game than Owen, and therefore, as he’s slowed with injury and age, has still got enough to his game to survive where Owen’s level has gradually dropped.
At the end of the day, when at his peak, Owen was as good as unplayable. His best asset was however, ultimately, fleeting. It says something to me that Owen is being approached as an England Ambassador on the same day Phil Neville is being taken in as an England coach.
Michael Owen’s Legacy
When he was a young man, Owen scored a goal for Liverpool at Newcastle (it was early in 1998/99) and celebrated by rubbing his hands together with glee. I do the move myself from time to time, and its still quite fun. If all he gave me was that, it would be enough.
Have a long and happy retirement, Michael. You were as exhilarating a talent as I remember bursting onto the scene, whether I liked you or not.