Michael Owen becomes Sir Alex’s special project. I think the signing needs to viewed in the context of a manager having won everything that needs to be won, setting up yet another challenge for himself.
On the day Sarah Palin shocked the US political establishment announcing her resignation as Alaska governor in typically rambling style, Sir Alex rocked the football world by signing a player who burst onto the scene like a supernova 13 years ago but injuries and loss of form have slowed his stellar trajectory. Michael Owen is now on his third big comeback if his Liverpool days are the yardstick to measure success by. The debate is heating up the forums: Is Owen a realistic choice or is Sir Alex whistling in the wind?
This move comes on the heels of some very big names leaving Man Utd and some equally big names touted as potential replacements snubbing the club. So what has changed all of a sudden that makes Man Utd, the epicenter of English football so unattractive to marquee players? Sir Alex did not want nor wait to find out.
In Owen’s case a theme emerges. The effects of injury early in one’s career are often times hidden by the resilience and remarkable recuperative powers of youth.
Owen’s phenomenal productivity came despite early signs that he was less than durable. He began his Liverpool career with two great seasons but a hamstring injury bought his second season to an abrupt end. His third season was even more abbreviated as the same injury persisted. At 19 his youth proved a factor in his successful rehabilitation as he enjoyed his best year at Liverpool in 2001 as the Merseysiders won almost everything except the Premiership.
In effect we can compare the two seasons when he played injured for Liverpool and a similar number of matches when he played relatively injury free for Newcastle to find out the effect on productivity.
1998-1999: 30 matches, 18 goals 2007-2008: 29 matches, 11 goals
1999-2000: 27 matches, 11 goals 2008-2009: 27 matches, 9 goals
The numbers indicate that Owen in his Liverpool days even while injured was likely to score more compared to his fuller seasons in Newcastle. With age, recuperative powers wane and it takes longer to rehabilitate. When you have the varied injuries that Owen has picked up in quick succession, these can have a cumulative effect on the speed and predatory instincts that make him such an effective striker. Owen also subjects his body to more wear and tear with his work rate. But supporters will also point out that the numbers still remain good.
Every time he is injured it becomes longer for him to achieve match fitness. A list of varied injuries and ailments that Owen has suffered: Hamstring injuries, a series of thigh injuries, metatarsal fracture, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, concussion, double hernia, mumps, and a calf strain. The ACL was particularly aggravating because Owen lost a year after the 2006 World Cup which is where he suffered the injury and the FA had to compensate Newcastle to the tune of £10 million.
It is left to Sir Alex to figure out the criteria for Owen’s success. If he can score 5-10 goals in about 25+ appearances, then this would be hailed as a great move. Man Utd’s speedier game might enable an instinctive player like him to flourish again. It will also be interesting to follow the dynamics between Rooney and Owen. The two players will be team mates but Owen could look at this as an opportunity to compete for the English squad which has been a shutout because Capello’s first choice remains Rooney. Healthy competition could help goalscoring. A note here, this signing is being compared to Sir Alex’s shrewd use of Teddy Sheringham. I think this is more a reflection of Sheringham who probably possessed one of the highest football IQs to remain relevant even while his heydays had bypassed him.