In the wake of England’s friendly with Slovakia and in the run up to their World Cup Qualifier with the Ukraine, much of the talk has centred around a man who is not to be involved in either of the matches. I speak of course, about Michael Owen, and whether you feel he is left out of the squad rightly or wrongly, I do not think that we should be spending so much time talking about him.
For a start, even though three of our strikers to injury in the Slovakia game (though unfortunately it appears Crouch will pull through), Owen should never have been a contender to replace the injured members of the original squad. He has not long returned from injury himself, and even once fit again, did not command a place in Newcastle’s starting line up.
We all know that things are not in good shape at Newcastle, and that perhaps some fans would have preferred to have seen Owen take to the pitch, but the fact is, if a club in such dire straights with regard to their league position felt Owen could get them goals, they would have played him. The fact that he wasn’t played tells us that he isn’t ready for international duty either, but more to the point, with no recent game time under his belt, his selection would have been ridiculous.
What’s more, the fact that the press jumped on Fabio Capello’s statement that he picks players not based on history but for the Ukraine match as an indication that Owen’s England future was over was just plain idiotic. Simply because he was not considered for this game does not mean he won’t be considered for others and while the ‘history’ comment sounds ominous in its peculiarity, it isn’t. Capello just meant he isn’t going to pick a player that has done well before, otherwise he could legitimately select Paul Gascoigne to play tonight and god knows that would be a bad call.
But the thing is, all this gossiping over Michael Owen’s non-inclusion in the squad simply shows that as a nation, we are living too much in the past. Starved of success for many, many years we have come to cling to any highlights sent our way, and yes, Owen was a highlight. That goal against Argentina remains one of the defining moments of my following of England in my lifetime, and there’s no doubt that Owen has given us more highs in an England jersey than many in recent times.
But we aren’t going to get anywhere by living in the past. The ’98 World Cup and that goal are more than 10 years in the past now, and the game has changed, and Owen has changed. Full of youthful promise then, Owen has seen his career sadly crippled by injuries and thus has not scaled the heights that we all predicted for him. But England, since that moment, have suffered a similar fate.
Back then we were all looking forward to the blooming of our golden generation. Ageing stars like Seaman and Shearer were moving on yes, but in their place we had the promise of maturing players like Beckham and Gerrard and Ferdinand. But what has happened? In ten years we have seen these players become great, but now they stand, in the prime of their careers having never achieved any real success with England.
The unfortunate facts seem to be that this generation of players have all but missed their chance. The likes of Owen and others are on their way out and now the England team revolves around the new blood once more, the likes of Rooney and Walcott are now the players that England fans imagine driving us to glory.
It’s all very well to look back on Michael Owen’s glory years, but just because we remember them so clearly does not mean that they’ll come racing back. No, we must move on, and look ahead. Because there are real signs of progress now. Capello is a new sort of manager for England, unafraid to try new things and willing to build a team rather than a collection of stars that don’t gel.
Most importantly, Capello understands the task that he faces. He knows that there is a huge weight of hope and expectation resting on his shoulders, but he is not fazed. He takes the praise he has received so far with a pinch of salt and calmly declares that “The future will decide whether Fabio Capello was a good manager or a bad one.” A man with such a firm grip with reality is the ideal man to lead our next generation of footballers to success.
So forget Owen, and forget that goal in ’98. When you see Beckham, don’t just think of that free-kick against Greece. Think of Beckham setting an example for England’s new talent, England’s fresh faced and hungry youngsters who we will pin our hopes on for the next ten years. And get excited about them, because they have a lot of talent and a lot of promise. We often criticise ourselves for getting excited about England’s prospects, but that’s what being a fan is. Plus, we finally have a man in charge who can keep their feet on the ground.
So yes, Owen might play for England again, and he might not. Right now, I don’t really care. What I care about is that those players that are in the England squad get the job done tonight against the Ukraine. Talk about those players, and debate their strengths and weaknesses, because it is their names that, one way or the other, will be in the papers in the morning. Don’t look back on a dingy, grey past England, look ahead to what could just be a glorious future. Because all you can do for now, is dream.