Life is full of what if’s, and soccer is no different. What if the linesman had flagged in the 1966 World Cup Final? What if Gazza had not lunged into Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup Final? And, what if Mama Messi had decided that children were just not her thing? Following a revelation from the Whitecaps’ Director of Professional Teams this week, we can now add what if Michael Owen had become a Whitecap to the list. It may not have the same era defining quandary to it, and it seems it actually never came close to happening, but it is still worth ruminating on what the impact could have been.
The official MLS article on the subject states that it was in 2011 that the Whitecaps made an offer to grab the diminutive forward. This would have been a few years into his time at Manchester United when he was regularly rotating between the physio's bench and the subs bench. Although to be fair to the ex-Liverpool striker, he had accepted that he would not be a regular starter when he agreed to join Fergie’s boys. In 2011 Owen would have been 31 and the Whitecaps were preparing for their first MLS season.
From a marketing perspective it would have been a great coup, especially for a brand new franchise. It definitely beats being linked to Robbie Savage. Whilst Owen is nowhere near as big a star as Beckham, in his heyday he was a true global football icon. He won the Ballon d’Or in 2001 and was regularly at the top of the scoring charts, even when playing for an underachieving Liverpool side. The English media would have shown interest, though maybe not to the extent that live Vancouver games would have been snatched up by Sky Sports. I can just imagine the articles now – little Michael wondering around Hastings race course waxing lyrical on his love for horses.
Would crowds have surged off the back of Owen’s signing? Probably not. He could have pulled in a few more fans to Empire but nothing major. With respect to the Brits in Vancouver, if they were interested in football they would have attended games in 2011 with or without Owen. An increase in shirt sales? Owen shirts lost their currency around 2005 so I would have been surprised if ‘Caps shirts suddenly made an appearance in retail stores from Shanghai to Stockholm ala Beckham and his Galaxy shirt.
On the field I am struggling to see how Owen would have made much of a difference. It is well documented that as a youngster he was overplayed for both Liverpool and England with the results being endless leg muscle injuries later in his career. Sir Alex has gone on record stating that young Michael should have been rested more even though he was terrorizing defenders across Europe at the time. The MLS would have been an unforgiving environment for Owen – hard pitches, tough defenders, and referees who struggle to keep up with the speed of the game. If he had got fully fit it would not have been for long. There is no doubting Owen’s quality and he could have proved a good back-up to Hassli and Camilo, but is that what you really want for a star DP? His time at Newcastle and Manchester United led to criticisms he was reaping a large salary for doing very little. I fear life in Vancouver would have been the same and the initial fan excitement would have turned to frustration.
So, strange as it sounds I’m not too upset that Michael Owen never pulled on the white, blue, and arbutus brown of the Vancouver Whitecaps. There would have been an early flash of excitement to herald the beginning of a new franchise, but the light would have faded as those hamstrings started to tear.