STOKE - While Premier League clubs the length of the country were scrambling to improve their squads on transfer deadline day a fortnight ago, a former England international with 40 goals for the Three Lions and more than 200 across a 15-year career was left to play a waiting game.
Having been released by Manchester United following a three-year spell at Old Trafford, Michael Owen remained a free agent as dawn broke on 31 August and was still without a club when the 11pm cut-off for deals to be completed passed.
Stoke City and manager Tony Pulis came to the rescue four days later, though, handing Owen a one-year contract and, more importantly, one more chance to prove himself at the highest level of English football.
“The manager had been interested in me for a while and prior to me going to Manchester United he had made contact and tried to bring me here,” Owen explained. “Obviously at the time I went to United.”
There were loads of things that ticked the boxes and I’m sure I’ve made the right decision. It’s a move that I’m excited about.
Since winning promotion to the top division in 2008, the Potters have become an established Premier League outfit and finished just short of the top half in each of their four seasons.
A visit to Stoke is widely considered one of the toughest fixtures of the campaign, an argument Owen agrees with from experience.
He added: “My past experiences of coming to the Britannia were a real eye-opener – the crowd are really passionate and I don’t care who you are, you always like to play in front of a passionate crowd that love their football.
“So there were loads of things that ticked the boxes and I’m sure I’ve made the right decision. It’s a move that I’m excited about and I hope I can stay fit for the majority of my time here.”
Natural born goalscorer
The situation had represented an appropriate microcosm for the depreciation of Owen’s reputation in England during the past four years.
From at one point seeming a certainty to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals for the national team, the striker was sidelined by Fabio Capello throughout his tenure as manager.
A move to the Red Devils in 2009 had seemed an attractive prospect for the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle United goalscorer, but, with Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and latterly Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck to compete with, Owen found opportunities equally as difficult to come by at club level as he did with England.
Injuries had often restricted Owen’s playing time since youth, his raw speed and turn of pace regularly causing hamstring problems during his breakthrough years at Anfield before a devastating knee ligament injury at the 2006 FIFA World Cup robbed the 32-year-old of a complete campaign.
But rarely had the horse-racing enthusiast been overlooked on merit. A sensation with Liverpool, a 17-year-old Owen struck a debut goal on his first appearance and found the target a further 157 times in a red shirt.
Taken to the FIFA World Cup France in 1998 by then England manager Glenn Hoddle, aged just 18, Owen shot to worldwide fame. A group-stage goal against Romania would mean nothing in defeat but greater glory was still to come.
An enthralling Round of 16 battle against Argentina proved one of the matches of the tournament and was punctuated by a piece of brilliance from Owen. Collecting the ball near the halfway line, the striker instantly set off towards La Albiceleste’s goal, beat two defenders and clipped the ball beyond Carlos Roa.
His life would never be the same again. Boosted by Owen’s goals, Liverpool turned themselves into a force again, winning a cup treble in 2001.
The No10 won the FA Cup almost single-handedly with two late goals against Arsenal, and was awarded the Ballon d’Or later that year for his performances.
Lured to the Bernabeu by Real in 2004, joining England team-mate David Beckham in the Spanish capital, Owen continued his prodigious strike rate, hitting the net 16 times for Los Blancos before a fresh arrival of star signings forced the striker back to his home country and Newcastle United.
The Magpies rarely saw the best of Owen, with a succession of injuries interrupting his attempts to find form.
His goals ratio remained impressive, however, with 30 claimed in 79 appearances for the north east club, whose fans expressed their disappointment when the striker, who had cost Newcastle £17million, departed for nothing upon the expiration of his contract.
Sir Alex Ferguson surprised many when he snapped up Owen on a free transfer three years ago and, despite a Premier League winner’s medal and 17 more goals, the amount of time Owen spent on the sidelines at Old Trafford marred his spell in Manchester and left observers wondering whether he had the energy or hunger to continue.
However, it seems he is determined to make the most of the time he has left at the top level. “I want to perform and I want to finish my career on a real high,” he concluded.
“I’m still only 32 and I still feel as if I have a lot left in me. I’ve always scored goals no matter what team I have been in, so as long as I can stay fit and healthy, then I’m sure I can do that here at Stoke.