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Football: Michael Owen, the boy wonder who ran out of gas

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

When Michael Owen comes to reflect on his career, he may have cause to remember New Year's Eve 2005 with particular regret.

After an underwhelming season at Real Madrid, Owen was back in England with Newcastle United.

He had missed the start of the season with a thigh injury, but since making his debut in September, he had scored seven goals in nine league games, including a hat-trick at West Ham United a week before Christmas.

Aged 26, he still looked like the lean, livewire striker who had scored 158 goals in 297 games for Liverpool, but in first-half injury time of a league game at White Hart Lane, disaster struck.

In diving to save at the striker's feet, Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Paul Robinson landed on Owen's right foot, breaking his fifth metatarsal bone.

Owen made one, 30-minute appearance in the second half of the season but arrived for the World Cup in Germany well short of fitness.

The injury jinx struck again in England's third group game against Sweden, when Owen's right knee buckled awkwardly beneath him.

His anterior cruciate ligament ruptured, he spent almost a year out of action and when he did return, he was not the same player.

Prior to the injury at Spurs, he made 347 club appearances and scored 179 goals at a rate of 0.52 goals per game.

In the seven years since, he has played only 128 club games and scored just 41 times.

"If you look at my time at Newcastle, the problems started when Paul Robinson landed on my foot against Tottenham just after Christmas," Owen said in 2009.

"I've then rushed my preparations for the World Cup. I played half a game for Newcastle. After being in plaster for so long my leg was de-conditioned and with hindsight, I should never have gone to Germany with England."

In the latter years of his career, Owen became more closely associated with gaffes than goals.

After Newcastle were relegated in 2009, he was pilloried for a crudely written brochure advertising his services that was released by his management team.

Branding Owen "The Athlete, The Ambassador, The Icon", the 32-page document only served to highlight the depths to which he had fallen, a year after winning the last of his 89 England caps.

He was also criticised in 2011 when he described winning the Premier League title with Manchester United as "the pinnacle" of his career, despite having contributed just two goals to the club's success.

As his career wound down with United and then Stoke City, Owen faced accusations, which he always denied, that he had lost his hunger for football and was more interested in his stable of race horses.

In hindsight, the pinnacle of his career had come in 2001, when he was awarded the Ballon d'Or.

Sandwiched between Luis Figo and Ronaldo, Owen's presence in the list of winners bears testament to the huge expectations that accompanied the early years of his career.

A phenomenonally prolific goal-scorer as a youth, he registered his first goal for Liverpool after just 16 minutes of his senior debut at Wimbledon in May 1997.

A year later, in the last 16 of the 1998 World Cup in France, he scored the goal that was to define him.

Collecting a pass from David Beckham inside the centre circle at Saint-Etienne's Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, he streaked through the Argentina defence before beating goalkeeper Carlos Roa with a rising shot to become a global superstar at the age of just 18.

It was the third of his 40 international goals, but injuries and a profile unsuited to playing as a lone striker prevented him from surpassing Bobby Charlton and becoming the first man to reach a half-century for England.

The archetypal boy wonder, his reliance on pace meant that injuries affected him more than most, but for a few years around the turn of the millennium, he had seemed preordained for greatness.

thw/cw

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130319/football-michael-owen-the-boy-wonder-who-ran-out-gas