Tale of two Owens

Both the veterans scored goals in the Carling Cup recently, Michael Owen netting twice against Leeds while Owen Hargreaves, released on a free transfer by United, scored a goal on his debut for City against Birmingham. By Frank Malley.

It does not happen all too often but sometimes in football someone pops up to remind us that footballers can be proud, sensitive, hard-working individuals just like the rest of us.

Sometimes two come along in the same week. Step forward Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves.

For those who might have forgotten Michael Owen is the former England and current Manchester United striker who has spent as much time as Sir Bobby Charlton in the Old Trafford stands these past two years and Charlton is 73.

Owen Hargreaves is the former England and current Manchester City midfielder who, through a series of injuries, has barely kicked a ball since starring at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Both scored goals in the Carling Cup recently, Michael Owen netting twice against Leeds while Hargreaves, released on a free transfer by United, scored a goal on his debut for City against Birmingham.

It does not mean Michael Owen is going to resurrect a career which was once the most luminous in the land and it does not necessarily mean that City manager Roberto Mancini was wrong in his decision to exclude Hargreaves from his UEFA Champions League squad.

Both players have too much catching up to do, too many injuries and setbacks to forget, to predict their futures with any certainty. Yet it was their attitude which served as an inspiration to any young player dreaming of achieving even half what they have done. The look of determination and the explosion of pleasure on the face of Hargreaves as his impressive strike rippled the net spoke volumes about a player who has refused to bow to crippling injuries.

It was the words of Michael Owen, however, which said it all. “I get criticised by a lot by people who say I don't play but I pick my money up,” Owen said. “I am not proud of that fact. I don't want anybody to think that I am content by not playing.”

Imagine Owen's torture these past few seasons as he has sat on the United bench recalling the 158 goals he scored in 297 appearances for Liverpool, the 16 in 45 for Real Madrid, the 30 in 79 for Newcastle and the 40 in 89 for England.

To date he has scored 16 in 49 appearances for United. Michael Owen scores goals and there is no shame sitting on the Old Trafford bench but to a proud striker of Owen's calibre not playing rightly eats away at his perception of self-worth.

The intriguing aspect of the re-energisation of Owen and Hargreaves, however, is not what they can do for their clubs but what they might yet do for their country.

Do England, so insipid in their most recent Euro 2012 qualifying victory against Wales, really have a striker more adept at poaching goals than Michael Owen?

Does England manager Fabio Capello, for all the promise of Jack Wilshere and the late blooming of Scott Parker, possess a holding midfielder with the discipline, wisdom and experience of Hargreaves?

Not at their best, he doesn't. Of course, Capello cannot go by one-off performances or sporadic goals in a competition which routinely is disrespected by Barclays Premier League clubs.

Capello needs more evidence than that. He needs to see fitness and reliability and consistency. That is the challenge for Owen and Hargreaves. One thing which is not in doubt is their attitude. That is an example to us all.

* * *

First FIFA stated on their website that African football leader Issa Hayatou had been appointed to head the Olympic football tournament in London.

Then, embarrassingly, after what they described as a “technical error”, they said Hayatou had not been appointed to the positions as chairman of both the organising committee for Olympic football tournaments and of the GOAL Bureau which distributes money for development projects.

Why does it matter? Because Hayatou is still under investigation by the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission over corruption allegations.

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Manchester United fans sang songs about Leeds supporters stabbed to death in Turkey 11 years ago. Leeds United fans chanted about the 1958 Munich disaster in which 23 people died.

Much has been done to curb racism and violence in English football grounds but the Carling Cup match between Leeds and Manchester United proved the depths to which tribal allegiances can still descend.

‘Nasty', ‘Disgusting', ‘Deplorable' are three words for it. Just plain ‘Sick' is even better.

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