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Michael Owen - The nearly man?

It's 1996, at Selhurst Park. Wimbledon v Liverpool and a kid, who's shirt is drastically too big for him, scores. His electric run past the last defender and calm finish, highlighted a fresh air of confidence that is rarely exuded by a 17 year old making his premier league debut. This boy was a bit different though, he was a worldbeater - and he was bloody English! A year after Euro 96, the buzz of the premier league and it's new found sexiness (cheers Ruud) was starting to pick up and in little Mickey Owen, a new star was born.

Michael went onto to score 18 league goals the next season, which prompted a surge of excitement, not only from the scousers but also across the country. It was a world cup year and even though there was a plethora of good english strikers - none had staked their claim as Alan Shearer's strike partner. Michael had though. He was frighteningly quick and a poacher, therefore he scored all kind of goals - goals that even Robbie Fowler, Ian Wright and perhaps Big Al couldn't. Pop a ball over the top of a few hapless obscure defenders and Mike was one on one...and usually, he would pop it in the net, with ease.

Hoddle just had to pick him and the rest is history as they say. That goal against Argentina was the goal that made England a team of contenders, mainly down to the youngest little nipper on the field. England of course, lost but in Michael Owen, they had an asset. An asset, which when combined with Becks and his outrageously accurate delivery, caused havoc in the opposition penalty area. A couple more impressive seasons, a winner in the FA cup final, a hattrick against Germany in their own back yard and Owen's talked about as one of the worlds best. So much so, he went on to win the Ballon d'or in that blissful year of 2001. Not sure I mentioned this but did I say that he was English?!

But something started to peter out a little. Mo started to pick up niggling injuries and big Injuries, too. Months out, months in...It started to become a routine of inconsistency. He still notched plenty but we just weren't seeing that blast of pace, which we witnessed in 1998 against the slimey Argentines. He was drifting. Not winning too much sliverware (for club or country) and not getting any younger = a bad combo. A concoction of anti climatic hopes of the country as more failures at the 2002 world cup and 2004 european championships followed. Granted not Owen's fault but the strong hoped that he would lead us all to glory, along with the so called "Golden Generation" took his toll. He was in his mid 20's now and the believers were becoming sceptics.

The summer of 2004 was perhaps where Owen's fortunes slipped to an all time low. Yes, he secured a transfer to Real Madrid to play alongside; Becks, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Zidane but quite frankly, he was booted out of the door somewhat by a Spanish Waiter. That Spanish Waiter was Rafa Benitez. Benitez came with a bit of a pedigree - which to Michaels misfortune costed against his chances as a new philosophy and ideas brought upheaval. Mo just had to go to Madrid, otherwise he's going to slip into the abyss of forgotten gem's of the 90s - and lets be honest, who turns down a move to Real Madrid.

Michael didn't do too much wrong at Real. He chipped in when he could, but consistently brought on from the sub's bench wasn't what he had envisaged. He needed to come back, assert himself on the Premier League and become England's main man again. A new, young striker had emerged. His name was Wayne Rooney and the similarities were striking. Michael wasn't the potential anymore, he was the one that used to have the potential - his time was running out.

And can just see it now - Michael returns to Liverpool and leads the Reds to Glory. However, Rafa had other plans. He was the boss, he had just won the champions league and he wasn't moving anywhere for the forseeable future. He also hadn't changed his mind, regarding poor little Michael Owen - he just didn't fancy him. Options were limited. He couldnt sit on the bench in Spain for another year, he was approaching his 'prime'  - he had to go. Newcastle came calling...

Newcastle at the time, although perhaps not as glamorous as it could've been, was a good fit. They were a big club, had recently endured a successful period under Bobby Robson and had now Graeme Souness, a manager who was making a name for himself. Oh, and they had Alan Shearer. He signed for a club record fee - he was the main man for years to come and finally lead the club to some sort of was perfect.

He started well, scoring 7 in 11 and forming a partnership with Alan, which was leaving Geordies excited. That was until he injured himeself again and was out for the rest of the season. A late recovery rescued his bid for a place at the 2006 world cup in Germany but he just wasn't the same. The one thing Mike relied on was his pace, pace which had now completely deserted him. A few games under his belt was a start, in an underwhelming world cup campaign. He was starting to get into the swing of things and bosh - Mike tore his cruciate ligament and is out again -  again for a whole season. It wasn't looking good. Michael Owen was forgotten about and the dwindling hopes of the national team, (who coincidentally failed to qualify for the euros in 2008) meant his international career was over.

Newcastle, were also struggling. A relegation in 2008/09 and that was it for Michael. Newcastle couldn't afford his 100K a week contract and with only a handful of appearances to his name, he was searching for a club. Approaching 30, Alex Ferguson offered him a lifeline. Yes, he had played for arch rivals Liverpool but this, like Real Madrid, came at a time when Owen had to take what he could get. A 20k rolling contracted probably put into perspective how far he had slipped - and opportunities also highlighted this. Fleeting appearances with only the odd meaningful goal across three seasons at United and Michaels time at 'the big time was up'. He had to either find a mid table club who were willing to take him on, or retire. He was only early 30s so Michael opted to give it one more go. A Season at Stoke came and was quicky gone. only 8 appearances and this just had to be it - Michael Owen was bowing out.

The optimism, the naive confidence had gone. It dwindled out season after season and became too much - Michael was now playing off his name, rather than his goalscoring records and new players had overtaken him. That young fresh faced 17 year old, every football writer predicted to be the worlds best was consigned to the long list of nearly men. Men who promised so much, yet through no fault of their own, delivered little what was expected.

Cheers for scoring that goal against Argentina Mike, it was a belter.