The former Liverpool, Real Madrid Newcastle, Manchester United and England star joined Stoke City on a free transfer Tuesday, ending months of speculation about his future — both short-term and long.
Owen was last spotted riding out the final year of a three-year contract at United. He spent most of that time either on the bench or in the treatment room at Old Trafford, but fans should expect that to change in 2012-13.
The 32-year-old heads to Stoke with the full knowledge that this is his last chance to play Premier League soccer. The oft-injured striker claims to be physically fit, having stuck to a specialized fitness program all summer. More important is that he is centered — both mentally and psychologically — and ready to take on the challenges that lay ahead.
Owen will discover that competition for playing time is less fierce at Stoke than it was in Manchester, and it should come as no great shock if he has a minor renaissance in the last-chance saloon of the Britannia Stadium. He won’t regain superstar status. He may not even become a regular starter. But the environment at Stoke City fits the criteria he laid out when describing his ideal next move, so it’s feasible that he will flourish in a limited role.
“I want to play and am eager to start again,” Owen told Sport 360. “I want to play in the best possible team.
“If it was local to my house, excellent. I want to play more often but that’s not written in the contract. I don’t really want to play in the Championship [second division]. I know I can still play in the Premier League and can still score goals.”
There are plenty of stable Premier League clubs with competent managers at the helm, but Stoke has deeper connections to Owen’s real motivation than most others. He wants to live and work in Northwest England so he can work a day job and devote himself to twin passions: his family (wife and four children) and his stable of award-winning horses. He also wants to play Premier League soccer for Premier League money, which he intends to plow into his thriving horse business.
Both Stoke and Everton — whom Owen supported as a boy — were jockeying for his signature. In fact, they may have been the only Premier League clubs to show serious interest. Owen reportedly accepted Stoke’s offer of a basic salary, which pays him £20,000 per week (with extras for appearances). It’s likely that he chose Stoke over Everton because manager Tony Pulis offered him a better chance at playing regular games and meeting those bonus clauses in his contract.
Owen has also stated his intention to play at least two more seasons, presumably in the Premier League. Watching two Manchester United teammates forge careers into their late 30s has inspired Owen to dream of a few golden years of his own, according to the BBC.
“It’s about picking the best club with the best manager and suiting me and my family,” Owen said. “The quality of the team and the manager is important and I’d prefer it to be in the Premier League.
“I want to play on for another two years at least — I’m only 32. Look at Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, they inspire you to play on. At 32 I certainly don’t feel like it’s time to retire.”
Owen’s signing could be a low-key coup for Pulis and Stoke when the dust settles. They are getting a fit and extra-motivated striker, who has a higher pedigree than most players a club of Stoke’s size and stature would normally bother pursuing. He cost the club a relative pittance (having joined on a free transfer), which is important as Stoke is living in a moment of austerity.
Owen’s injury problems may stretch back to 1999, but he has been a consistent goal scorer whenever he played regular games — be they for club or country. Like any 32-year-old, he lost the speed that made him a breakout star, but his eye for goal and his finishing ability are sharpened and refined.
Pulis will give Owen a real chance to contribute if he can stay healthy, and the player has been praised for being the consummate professional. It’s unlikely that Owen will make much of a fuss if Stoke’s current crop of strikers keep him off the field, and either party (Pulis or Owen) can cut the ties at little expense if things go sour.
Should Owen storm the Brittania, force his way into the lineup and start scoring goals in bunches, this will be the sort of low-risk, high-reward signing that dares fans to dream of what was, is and could one day be.
Photo via Facebook/Michael Owen