It is a scene that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, Michael Owen receiving the ball from the evergreen Ryan Giggs in the sixth minute of added time.
The opponents are none other than Manchester City, United’s cross-town rivals; the score is 3-3. Owen uses the outside of his boot to deftly bring the pass under his control; he then races forward and dinks the ball over Shay Given. What followed was perhaps Owen’s greatest moment in a United shirt, the stadium erupted and Owen had proven that he still had it.
Oh how life can be cruel, that great moment was in 2009, Owen's first season at United. The former England striker never reached those heights again in a United shirt, his hat-trick against Wolfsburg in the same season perhaps just about comes close.
However, as had frequently been the case since leaving Liverpool, Owen found himself frequently sidelined by injury at Old Trafford. Whenever he did score, it was clear that the killer instinct never disappeared; if it was just him against the goalkeeper then you could virtually guarantee that the ball would be in the back of the net.
Yet as he himself has admitted, Owen had lost so much of what made him the player that he was, with his diminishing pace being the main point of frustration.
Writing in the Telegraph, he insists that he does not regret rejecting the chance to move to Manchester United as a 12-year-old. He cites the fact that he was “at the top of his game” at Liverpool and that “darting past defenders” in a Liverpool shirt was the “peak” for him.
However, those words are written now, after his career has worked out the way it has. Yet, quoted in the Telegraph, Sir Alex Ferguson insists in his latest autobiography that “if Michael had joined us at 12 years old, he would have been one of the great strikers. I think the lack of rest and technical development in his early years counted against him.”
Indeed, Ferguson was renowned for handling young players with caution. After all, he managed to foster a side that included Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and Neville into European and domestic champions. Giggs is still capable of having a huge influence in games, as was clear in United’s narrow 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad on Tuesday.
If Owen had decided to join Manchester United as a youngster and remained injury-free, there is little doubt that he would have broken all the records that there are to break. His dominance would have influenced the careers of players such as Wayne Rooney, who may not have been needed if Owen was plying his trade at Old Trafford in 2003.
Yet it hasn’t worked out that way, and it is clear that Ferguson is full of regret, he knows that even though Owen still had a good career, things could have been so much better for both the player and United.
Who knows what the Red Devils could have achieved with Owen playing at a consistently high level? The Liverpudlian would be able to claim at least one Champions League as another trophy to add to his long list.
Owen may not regret rejecting Sir Alex, but surely he would have preferred the prolonged success that could still be continuing to this day if he had joined United as a youngster? He frames his lack of regret in terms of how is career has worked out, but it could have been even better.
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