Reputation doesn't justify Owen recall

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Upon waking up on Wednesday morning, the likes of Ashley Grimes, James Constable and Kevin Ellison would have good reason to be rather miffed.

The previous evening, Michael Owen had scored Manchester United's second goal as the Barclays Premier League champions strolled into the last-eight of the Carling Cup after beating Npower League Two side Aldershot Town.

Owen's first-half strike at the EBB Stadium has revived a debate, among many of the country's journalists and supporters, over whether the 31-year-old should be included in England's Euro 2012 squad for next summer's final's in Poland and Ukraine.

On the basis that Owen netted against a plucky side from the fourth tier of English football, messrs Grimes, Constable and Ellison, all regular contributors in terms of goals and appearances for their clubs, can be disappointed not to be named in dispatches for an international call-up, because they too have netted against the might of Aldershot.

Granted, the trio don't carry a weight of experience and goals at international level, but given the sudden campaign to see Owen included after a long absence, the catalyst seemingly being a brace against Leeds United and a solitary goal against Aldershot, the argument being presented appears to lack credence.

It's impossible to ignore his credentials. Owen lies fifth on the list of all-time leading goal-scorers for England, seventh on the list for Liverpool and is ranked joint fifth on the list for goals in the Premier League. He's played for arguably the three biggest clubs in world football plus featured in three World Cup finals, scoring in two.

But these feats were achieved during Owen's prime years, far from where he is now. His last international appearance came over three years ago, the same year he last scored more than one goal in a Premier League match. For his last England goal, you'd have to go back to September 2007.

His appearances for United, which usually coincide with goals albeit against lesser opposition, are as sporadic as calls are for his international recall. Since signing for United in 2009, he's made less appearances for the club than Javier Hernandez has since his arrival at Old Trafford last summer. The Mexican's comparisons with Owen have subsequently been regular, another reminder that his reputation lies in his past glories.

The calls for his recall are a tribute to those past glories, whether it be running through Argentina in St Etienne or winning the 2001 FA Cup Final on his own against Arsenal, such memories are clearly difficult to forget, and naturally for supporters of English sport, we've allowed ourselves to be caught up in the sentimental value the moments hold.

It appears to be instilled in English minds that we refuse to let go of those gone before, perhaps due to successes being so few and far between.

The governing bodies of Cricket and Rugby have leaned the hard-way about picking players beyond their sell-by date simply based on reputation. Andy Caddick's selection ahead of the effervescent James Kirtley in the 2003 Cricket World Cup and Lawrence Dallaglio's last hurrah ahead of James Haskell in the 2007 Rugby World Cup are two instances of how the young were elbowed for the established, with mixed results.

Now those who support and write about the England football team, the same people who demanded the side under Fabio Capello moved on after their humiliation at the hands of Germany in South Africa, and now requesting the recall of another of those who have just their reputation to stand on.

The argument appears to be that Owen could be utilised as an impact sub, to come on when England are in dire need. I'm all for preparing for every eventuality, but bringing a player to a finals as one of 23 just for a 10 minute cameo is not only slightly defeatist but also dismissing the importance of all the members. All the players should be able to step in at anytime, in Owen you'd be filling one spot for one scenario.

The desire for this one person role is patronising to those waiting in the wings for an England chance. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Gabriel Agbonlahor have all shown in their brief appearances at Under-21 level or in full appearances for their country, and week-in week-out in the Premier League that they deserve a chance to prove their worth at a major finals, or at least gain some valuable experience along the way to them becoming a seasoned pro.

I wonder how they feel, that after a couple of goals in a second-rate cup competition, a 31-year-old has-been has seemingly jumped the queue.

In 1998, when the selection of Owen was seen as a gamble for the World Cup in France, he got the nod ahead of the house-hold names of Dion Dublin and Andy Cole.

Hindsight may be a wonderful thing, but given the way he burst onto the international scene, Dublin and Cole would be the first to admit the choice to opt with Owen was the right decision not only for the tournament but for England's future.

With next summer's European Championships approaching, even without hindsight, Owen would surely concede his selection will do nothing to assist the development of another bright young star. Had Dublin or Cole been included ahead of Owen, will the former-Liverpool striker have turned out quite like he did? For the sake of an impact substitute, is it worth holding back another potential star?

Despite quotes in the press, Owen's current club situation means he doesn't smack of one who is desperate to break back into the England team. He said following his two goals against Leeds, despite not liking being left out, he preferred the infrequency of his United appearances.

"I still feel I have to prove myself every time I play," Owen said. "If I was playing every week, you could afford a bad game here or there because you can always score one in the next game and nobody will remember your bad games.

"The dilemma you have is that if I moved to a smaller club I might get more games. We will see how the season goes, basically, and assess it then just as we have every year.

"I have got a few years left in the game and I would love them to be at Manchester United."

Knowing Capello's insistence on players playing regularly for their club, Owen will do well to be considered. With just three appearances this season, you don't have to be a mathematician to realise that Owen isn't playing enough, and he knows it.

People may question the potential selection of Wayne Rooney in the squad, and that Owen's is just as justified if his United teammate can only feature in half the tournament, given the role of Owen is already prepped as a bit part. Try telling me Owen contributes as much to a team as Rooney does.

I actually buy into the theory of bringing Owen because of the what he can provide in the final minutes. He showed in the Manchester derby during his first season at United his ability to pop up with a late intervention, and his selection on the bench ahead of the Premier League's joint top scorer Dimitar Berbatov for last season's Champions League final suggests Sir Alex Ferguson believes he can fulfil that role.

But seeing Owen selected over a player who proves himself for club and country isn't fair on our national team's development. If Owen scores 15 goals between now and May we'll talk again but until then, Owen must justify his place on form alone, his reputation shouldn't be his passport to an England renaissance.

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