The Stats Don't Lie: Michael Owen Should Be England's Secret Weapon At Euro 2012

Far from a knee-jerk reaction to his Carling Cup brace against Leeds, the bare facts show that Michael Owen is still in the top four English strikers, and his tournament experience and finishing ability make him a must pick next summer...
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Few goals live as long in my memory as that of Manchester United's Michael Owen against Argentina in St Etienne on 30th June 1998.

Fearless youth ripping right through the heart of a bewildered Argentine defence, collectively frozen to the spot by an English teenager who suddenly had the world at his feet. It feels like an ocean of water has gone under the bridge in the 13 years since then - indeed there are few players who polarise opinion and spark debate as readily as Owen, particularly in the cities of Newcastle and Liverpool.

The most persistent allegation from his critics is that Owen has always put money first in his career choices - something he recently refuted on his personal Twitter account; "how can greed ever be labeled at me? Greed for success maybe but if I wanted money the last club I would of signed for is Manchester United," he said.  What is hard to question is Owen's commitment to England, indeed he was sometimes even criticised for that during his time at Liverpool, with some supporters feeling he cared more about country than club.

It hasn't been a problem during his time at Manchester United, because Michael Owen hasn't played for his country since coming on as a sub in a friendly against France at the Stade de France on 26th March 2008. That is Owen's one and only cap under Fabio Capello, but if he is fit and available for selection next summer I believe the Italian must take England's forgotten man to UEFA Euro 2012.

This isn't a ridiculous overreaction to a couple of goals for Manchester United against Leeds United in the Carling Cup, or even a sentimental plea based on memories of 'that night in Munich'.  At the age of 31, Michael Owen is simply too young and too good to be totally ignored by an England manager who is far from blessed with a luxury of options when it comes to forwards with proven international pedigree.

The facts show Michael Owen is still easily one of the best finishers available for England selection.

He has 89 caps and 40 goals - that's a goals-per-game ratio of 0.45.

At club level Owen averages slightly more (0.47) - 220 goals in 470 apps.

Of England regulars in recent years only Peter Crouch (0.52) has a better goals-per-game ratio in international football - with 22 in 42 caps - at club level Crouch's average is 0.31.

It will surely be his last chance to star again for England on a big stage - and although the searing pace and youthful exuberance of 1998 have long gone, the eye for goal remains as sharp as ever.

Wayne Rooney averages 0.39 at international level and 0.42 in club football

Darren Bent averages 0.3 at international level and 0.43 in club football

Jermaine Defoe averages 0.33 at international level and 0.41 in club football.

That Owen continues to be ignored by his country is all the more remarkable when you consider his standing in the nation's list of all-time top-scorers. Only Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves have scored more goals for England - in fact Owen is just 9 goals short of Charlton's total, in 17 fewer games.

We'll never know for definite, but surely there can be little doubt that if it were not for injuries, Owen would have been at the top of that list of England greats by now. He was worst hit by problems when he should have been in his prime - restricted to a total of 14 appearances for Newcastle United in the 2005/06 & 2006/07 seasons.

Although if you take those years and last season out of the equation, Owen has never played less than 30 club matches in a full campaign, casting more than a little doubt on claims that he would be too much of an injury gamble to take to a major tournament. He might even have managed 30+ games in 2010/11, had it not been for intense competition for places at Manchester United, which saw Owen spend 21 Premier League games as an unused substitute.

Sir Alex Ferguson recently conceded that the striker deserves more games than he's getting, fair comment when you consider Owen has now scored 11 goals from his last 12 starts - the downside to this and perhaps the biggest barrier to his inclusion by Capello, is that it is a run that dates back to October 2009.

It's very difficult to argue with the assertion that Owen isn't currently playing enough club football to justify a starting place for England when everyone's fit and available, but a 23-man tournament squad has to cater for many needs and scenarios.

There aren't many men I'd rather introduce as a sub when you're in desperate need of a goal in a tight game, I also can't think of many players available to England right now with more tournament experience - vital when you consider many players likely to be picked for UEFA Euro 2012 will be going to their first senior tournament.

Look how vital a 32 year old Miroslav Klose was to Germany's younger players in their squad's run to the 2010 FIFA World Cup semi-finals - scoring 4 goals and sharing the limelight with emerging talents like Ozil, Khedira and Muller.

Michael Owen will also be 32 when UEFA Euro 2012 is staged in Ukraine and Poland next summer, it will surely be his last chance to star again for England on a big stage - and although the searing pace and youthful exuberance of 1998 have long gone, the eye for goal remains as sharp as ever.

Newcastle United Fans Were Right To Boo Michael Owen

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