Owen reaches the end of the road

Michael Owen’s season – and with it his hopes of being selected for the England World Cup squad – is over, after it was revealed this morning that the hamstring injury the striker sustained in the first half of last weekend’s Carling Cup final requires surgery.

Sir Alex Ferguson commented on the news with sorrow, but couldn’t resist having a(nother) dig at the perpetually under-fire Wembley pitch:

“The hamstring injury is more serious than we first thought, so he will have surgery on Monday. It’s a terrible blow for the lad. Michael has never missed a training session, but I believe that playing on the heavy pitch at Wembley last week contributed to the injury. It’s really bad luck for Michael, but he is out now until next season.”

Owen has spent as much time in the treatment room as he has on the pitch over the past few years, and although he was England’s senior striker at the 2006 World Cup, his tournament ended prematurely after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament barely a minute into the final group game against Sweden. He came back from that injury after a year out of the game, but niggling injuries since then have gnawed away at his pace and contributed to his marginalisation from the national team set-up.

His hopes of going to South Africa were already vanishingly slim. It is two years since Owen last played for England and it is clear that, injuries permitting, Fabio Capello is likely to select Wayne RooneyJermain Defoe, Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch as his striking quartet.

The strong suspicion is that, in the words of the Boyz II Men song, “We’ve come to the end of the road,” at least as far as Owen’s international career is concerned. He is 30, chronically injury-prone, out of favour with England and consigned to a supporting role as Rooney’s backup at Old Trafford. Certainly the bookmakers think is the case, offering miserly odds of 1/8 against Owen never representing his country again.

Barring the greatest comeback since Lazarus, this latest setback sounds the death knell for an international career in which Owen has scored 40 goals in 89 appearances. He now seems destined to remain stuck as England’s fourth-highest all-time goalscorer behind Bobby CharltonGary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves.

And one seriously has to question whether it is worth Owen continuing to fight the uphill and increasingly forlorn struggle to regain his England place. Charlton’s goalscoring record now looks beyond reach, and it is hard to see how he could possibly feature at Euro 2012. What would be the motivation for Owen in sitting by the phone hoping that a combination of good form and injuries to others might give him the opportunity to become a bit-part player in a qualifying campaign? He will certainly never be the main man again, as he was during a decade of impeccable national service between 1998 and 2007.

It looks very much to me that Michael Owen’s England career is over. I would not be at all surprised if he were to formalise this by announcing his retirement from international football before the Euro qualifying campaign kicks off next autumn. Sad, but it is time for England to look forward rather than back over their shoulder.


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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