By Franz Lino
In light of recent news that Michael Owen is set to retire and Freddy Adu is moving yet to ANOTHER club, I thought it was important we look at some players of today that had the skills to have a brilliant career, but never really did (cue “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” by Belle and Sebastian).
We start with Michael Owen. He went from teen sensation that was the bright hope for England’s future, to something of a joke, mouthed in between one liners about Emile Heskey. His fall from grace is well documented and a pretty good example as to why Arsène Wenger is right to keep Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from getting too much England National side action, or Brendan Rogers’ fatherly protection of Raheem Sterling. Getting into it, too much, at too young an age has destroyed many a career. But one that has been highlighted time and time again is Michael Owen. He was the Barclays Premier League top scorer twice before his 20th birthday and never achieved the feat again in his career.
The goal that sky rocketed 18 year old Michael Owen into fame. It seemed like he would have such a promising career. But it was not to be, he’ll be retiring this year, as a barely played footballer on Stoke City. He won the Ballon D’or in 2001, but failed to win anything substantial to his name since then. How did this happen? Well, all that can be said is that injuries destroyed his career. Many players are right mardy bums outside the football pitch, boozing and partying the night away, but not Owen, other than his love for the ponies, he was a total professional, injuries are really the only thing to blame. There are quite a few contributing factors, it must be said. He was over-worked as a teenager, and was far too reliant on his elementary, but savant like skills. He was as fast as a bullet, with finishing to match. But that was it, that was his game. He didn’t have Ronaldo’s tricks, Xavi’s pass, Inzaghi’s sense of the goal. He lacked everything a complete footballer has, he was no passer or provider, he just kicked the ball up and ran past the defender. For all his speed, injuries depleted him of it, and once it was gone, all he had was his fantastic finishing, which was useless if he could never get himself into goal scoring opportunities. Oh well Michael, enjoy the horses.
Ledley King is one of many of Owen’s compatriots who had such a promising career but never really got the timing right. Another man plagued by injuries, he is different from Owen in the sense he had a complete game, he was a great player who probably would have gone on to be one of England’s greatest defenders. He was technically gifted and made defending look like and art. Despite his relatively short career, he only picked up eight yellow cards throughout his time with Tottenham. Eight yellow cards. That is unbelievably low, and highlights his skill as a defender. But once his knee gave him trouble, it all spiraled, unfair and tragically so, out of control until it ended his career.
A highlight of his master class, he was absolutely superb. In 2006, he picked up an injury he was never able to shake off. From 2006-2008 he kept fighting off in his injury problem. Harry Redknapp was quoted as saying,
“There’s no cure. There’s no cartilage, nothing to operate on. It’s just bone on bone. So it’s just a question of managing it. It swells up after games and it normally takes seven days to recover but having played on Monday night he’s had less time than usual. He rarely trains, he mostly just goes to the gym to keep himself ticking over. But not running or anything like that. But even if he only plays 20 games a season, he’s worth having because he’s so good we have a much better chance of winning.”
He continued to struggle with his knee, despite this, he continued to play. He stopped training with the team because it was too much of a workload for his knee and trained on his own. Harry Redknapp said that King was “an absolute freak” for being able to keep up with the physical demands of the Premier League despite carrying the injury for so long. He was finally forced into retirement in 2012 by his injuries. Many came out to say he was a great defender and would have gone on to become one the world’s best defender. Thierry Henry later stated that Ledley King was the best defenders he ever played against.
Owen Hargreaves and Jonathan Woodgate are yet another pair of English lads who picked up injuries and had their careers suffer for it. Owen in particular never had much luck. His skills should have given him a brilliant career, but his body never seemed willing to cooperate. He had a decent career until 2006, where he broke out with the English squad, being named man of the match in the game against Portugal, but subsequently, he picked up an injury. In 2007, he should’ve been an integral part of Manchester United’s midfield, but instead spent the next four years fighting off one injury after another. In 2012, he was released from Manchester City because of his injury problems, and has yet to be signed. Jonathan Woodgate’s story is a similar one. He had great potential, but never seemed to get past his injuries. A Woodgate/King partnership would have been the greatest center back duo England has had in a very long time. C’est la vie.
A little shout out to Joe Cole and Ruben De La Red. Joe Cole is easily one of England’s most technically gifted players. Ever. The problem is, there hasn’t ever been a manager capable of fully utilizing his skills, and England often overlooks technically gifted over a kick and rush style. Why? I don’t know, but his resurgence in France is testimony to his skill. In France, a league that requires more technical ability, he flourished and was mistakingly looked as a “horizon” of a player. Simply, he was finally put to good use. As for Ruben, a fantastic Spanish player, home grown Madrileño, he was forced to retire after collapsing during a Spanish Cup game. He had a heart condition that forced him to retire at the tender age of 25.
Freddy Adu. I hate talking about this guy, he actually annoys me. Hailed as the American Pele, he imploded, exploded and fizzled out into irrelevance all at the same time. It’s amazing how underwhelming he’s turned out to be so far. He supposedly had all the skills to become a great player, but never really did that. Having played at nine clubs, the fact that he struggled to find playing time at an MLS team (no offense, but he was suppoed to be great and that is just unacceptable) is embarressing. After mutual consent with the Philidelphia Union, he has terminated his contract and is headed to Brazilian minnows, EC Bahia. I think I almost hate this guy. Random interjection, I know, I just really am annoyed with the amount of hype that surrounded him, and how perpetually disappointing he will always be to me. And he’s still only 23, so he’s still got plenty of time to make me doubt the meaning of life. He was drafted at the far too young age of 14, he was supposed to make an impact on American football.
The fact that there are even highlights videos of him is surprising to me. His first problem is that he even started playing professionally at the age of 14. That is too young, simply put. He wasn’t up to snuff both physically and mentally. His second mistake was leaving the MLS so early. If he wasn’t ready for the MLS, he sure wasn’t ready for Europe, and in Benfica’s case, Champions League football. What was anyone around him thinking? Yes, the chance to play in Europe must’ve been a tempting one, but didn’t anyone tell him it’s better to develop into something of a player? He hasn’t even come close to fully developing and he went off to the races. Maybe he once had potential, but he doused it in gasoline, put it through a meat grinder and then set it on fire. Jesus, I am actually getting more and more angry just thinking about him.
To all the managers out there, please stop ruining so many players! My best to Ledley King and Ruben De La Red (cue “Say Goodbye” by Norah Jones).
Cover photo by ISIPhotos.com