I hate when athletes with so much potential end up falling short because of injuries. Whether it is Boobie Miles, Mark Prior or Marcus Camby, I can't help but feel sympathy—even pity—toward these would-be greats. So when Manchester United's Michael Owen went down for the season after suffering a torn hamstring, I was devastated for the 30-year-old striker.
For those who don't know, Owen is one of the most talented English-born forwards of all time, and had he not been plagued by a hurt hamstring, he could have possibly been mentioned among the likes of other British legends such as Bobby Charlton and George Best. Unfortunately, his nagging injury has rendered him unable to live up to the infinite potential he once had.
At the age of 10 some of England's top scouts were already keeping an eye on Owen's progress. At 13—when clubs are allowed to sign youngsters to ""schoolboy contracts""—he held talks with Chelsea, Man U and Arsenal, before eventually agreeing to a deal with Liverpool. Owen quickly rose through the ranks of their youth teams and was known as a tenacious goal-scorer. Four days after he turned 17, Owen was on the Liverpool senior team and scored a goal in his first-ever appearance for the club a few months later.
Imagine what you were doing when you were 17 years old. Odds are you were wallowing in teenage angst after reading ""The Catcher in the Rye,"" worried about prom or barely scraping by on your high school's varsity squad. Contrast that with playing for one of the most prolific soccer teams in the world, making millions and being a prodigy. Needless to say, expectations were high for the young lad.
The fateful hamstring injury appeared the very next season and would continue to hamper Owen throughout his career. Despite his injuries, the youthful phenom still scored more than 150 goals for Liverpool by the time he was 24. But after another injury-riddled season in 2003-'04, Owen's status with the squad was questioned, and he was eventually transferred to Spanish superpower Real Madrid for £8 million.
One cannot help but wonder what Liverpool would be like now had Owen not been sent to Madrid. With Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Owen it could be the most dangerous side outside of Barcelona. Alas, Owen's productivity fell off because of his consistent injuries so the team felt it was in their best interest to cut their losses.
It wasn't just his greatness as a club player that made Owen the sensation he once was—it was partially because of his international accomplishments for England. Not since the days of Charlton and Best had the Three Lions seen someone of Owen's caliber on the world stage. In 89 appearances he scored 40 goals, ranking fourth all-time among goal-scorers for England's national squad. But once again, an injury cut Owen's success with the Three Lions short. This time it was an ACL tear in the first minute of a group game during the 2006 World Cup that sent Owen home and left his future with the national team in doubt.
After having productive stints at Newcastle and now Manchester United, hope for Owen's glorious return was growing. This was until last week, when news was announced that Owen had suffered a season-ending injury to that damned hamstring. I couldn't believe it when I heard it—well, I could, but I didn't want to. See, Owen was not Kwame Brown or Ryan Leaf—guys who were ""can't miss"" but failed epically at the pro level. No, Owen was an undeniable once-in-a-lifetime athlete who was cursed by the very limbs that gave him his awe-inspiring abilities: his legs.
Named one of FIFA's 100 Greatest Living Players, Owen still has a legacy and people who recognize his talents, but it is always going to be a question of what might have been for the striker. When he is old and looks back on his career, there will undoubtedly be times of joy and unforgettable memories for the striker, but for each of those moments there is a haunting reminder of a torn hamstring or ACL. These injuries severely limited Owen's attempt to become a legend, and like Boobie, we will never know the true extent of his potential.
Know anyone else who's career has taken a poor turn because of injury? E-mail Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.