England don't need a luxury like Michael Owen
Sentiment is often known to cloud good judgment. As England tune up for next year's European Championship with a couple of Wembley friendlies, Alex Ferguson is among the respected voices calling for the unlikely return of Michael Owen to the national set-up. It seems a little far-fetched to suggest the soon-to-be 32-year-old striker will be welcomed back with open arms ahead of Euro 2012.
Owen has not represented his nation since 2008 and is a bit-part player at Manchester United where he is recovering from his latest injury - a thigh problem. Yet Ferguson believes there is no-one better than Owen when it comes to producing a goal out of nothing.
If the former Liverpool forward's that good, then why is he the fifth choice man up-front at Old Trafford? If there's no one better, why has Owen made only one league start in the past two seasons - against Sunderland in October last year when he was substituted after 45 minutes?
With a shared passion for horse racing, Ferguson clearly enjoys having Owen around the Carrington training ground and probably believes he is a luxury he can afford.
But to suggest that Owen should displace the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Bobby Zamora for England is ludicrous, even if Wayne Rooney will be missing for the start of the Euros.
Fabio Capello is not right about many things, but he was spot-on when he sidelined Owen soon after taking over as national manager in January 2008. A series of injuries means the only England player to have scored in four major tournaments has long been a pale shadow of his former self.
The stats don't lie. Since joining Manchester United in 2009, Owen has just five goals in 31 league appearances and 17 in 52 in all competitions, inflated by seven goals in seven games in the League Cup against the likes of Aldershot Town and Leeds United.
This week, Owen spoke about his ambition of matching teammate Ryan Giggs by playing into his late 30s. In recent weeks, he's hinted at harbouring hopes of adding to his 89 England caps. With 40 goals, he needs 10 to beat Bobby Charlton's long-standing scoring record.
If Owen is serious about playing for his nation again, the first thing he needs to do is to leave United at the end of the season and go to a club where he'll play every week. Capello isn't alone in demanding that anyone in the national frame is a regular where they earn their wages.
At the moment, Owen is little more than an expensive mascot, sitting in the stands at Old Trafford after failing to make the bench yet again for a Premier League game.
His only premiership appearance this season came in September when he came on for the injured Javier Hernandez in the 1-1 draw at Stoke - United's first dropped points of the campaign.
Owen remains the ultimate professional and, of course, has the right to make any choice he wants. But it is sad for his fans and former teammates to see such an iconic player become a peripheral figure. 'It used to be that you'd go anywhere to play regular first-team football in the latter part of your career - for pride's sake if nothing else,' said a retired England international who crossed paths with Owen in the 1990s.
'But the way the game has gone with the amount of money coming in, more modern-day players are happy to simply sit on the bench or in the stands and pick up a pay cheque while making hollow statements about wanting more game time.' Owen is on a reported ?50,000 (HK$619,000) a week.
Many of Old Trafford's younger players would get a big thrill out of training every day with the two-time Premier League golden boot and his No7 United shirt remains a strong seller around the world. But maybe Owen would be better suited to a non-playing ambassador role, similar to that which Italy's retired 2006 World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro performs at Dubai's Al Ahli.
For too long, Owen has been living off his reputation. It used to be his amazing goals that provided a thrill to fans. Instead, the main suspense surrounding him last season was whether he would play enough times to earn a winners' medal. In the end, 11 appearances - 10 as a substitute - saw him squeak over the line.
If only his friends and peers used this international break as a professional 'intervention'.
Instead of listening to him paying lip service to wanting to pull on the England shirt again, why not simply have the courage to put your body on the line at a smaller club where you'll play every week?