The Secret Philosophy of Michael Owen

Michael Owen

Michael Owen. One of the most naturally gifted goal scorers English football has produced in the last 20 years. Also one of the most looked-to examples of what can happen when a young footballer, soft, malleable and, by-and-large, dim, is thrust into the searing limelight at the tail-end of his adolescence. The breathless, flushed beginnings of Owen’s career were betrayed by the begrudging, flatulent ending, where spells at Newcastle United, Manchester United and Stoke City left an acrid taste lingering on the palette, something that wasn’t helped by Owen’s highly visible preference for immersing himself in horse racing, rather than focusing on playing for whatever football club he was being paid by. Still, this is a striker who scored that goal against Argentina at France 98, and finished his time at Liverpool averaging better than a goal every other game. So why not have him as a colour commentator, let him decorate useful description of the pitch-based action with a smattering of fascinating tidbits, or a sprinkling of anecdotal whimsy, or even some bizarre nonsense statements.

As it’s turned out for BT Sport, the plucky up-and-comers rolling up their sleeves and stifling their fear in the face of Sky, who hired Owen as a co-commentator, it’s been more of the latter. Owen, plagued as he is with the sort of voice that makes everything sound a little stupider than it is, has been abetting that effect by saying some wholly baffling things on air. Whoateallthepies.tv compiled a sensational list of the Top 12 Inane Michael Owen Commentary Quotes earlier this year, and at first glance, in Owen, it looks as if we’re dealing with the purest form of dullard, that Karl Pilkington-level of moron capable of spontaneously coming out with some of the most remarkable, brain-scratching utterances. These unprovoked, unscripted words of anti-wisdom might be the sheer dum-dum confection they appear to be, but perhaps they’re something more. Perhaps they operate on a higher plane, under a different paradigm that must be tapped into in order to extricate the genius-sap they hold. I hold the suspicion that they are exactly this.

Shall we? Will you take my hand as we dive into the vortex? Remember not to touch anything, lest we change the future, or is that just a rule for time-travellers? Well, better to be safe than sorry, so keep your hands inside the vehicle.

“It’s a good run but it’s a poor run, if you know what I mean?”

Michael, look…*sigh*…we don’t know what you mean, to be honest, and when you speak like this it’s very difficult to even guess at what exactly you mean. I don’t know what team Owen was talking about when he said this sentence, but, considering the bi-polar nature of the phrase, it could be any and all teams who have or have not recently suffered a good or poor run. Why not look at Manchester United then, and use them to try and make sense of this?

Louis van Gaal has earned 4 less points after 11 games than David Moyes had managed last season. On the face of it, football is a results game and results are king. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan were lovely to watch, but they were relegated after years of flirting perilously with the drop, and now they’ve got Malky Mackay as their manager. But the mood is optimistic at Old Trafford, or rather, it’s happier than it was last year, even though the results are worse, the coffers are lighter and the injury list is longer than War and Peace. True, the quality of football is better, but how could it not be, after Angel Di Maria and the rest have been purchased and incorporated? So, at once, we have reason to be angry and pleased about Manchester United’s current state, there’s evidence of a decline but also an improvement, and there’s proof that United are suffering through…hold on a moment… a good run but also a poor run…? Oh, Michael, I do, I really, really do know what you mean, if that is indeed what you meant.

“You have to believe your own eyes, don’t you?”

Ah, now this, this verbal construction here, is a very canny reference by Owen to the work of Descartes and his famous Meditations. Just as old Rene grappled with the reliability of sensory perception, when he said “What I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind.” so too is poor Michael. If Owen, watching an offside call live, immediately responds in the affirmative, and, based on the intuition informed by his senses, states on air (and he can’t take it back now, really, even if he tries to) that the call was “the right decision by the referee”, only then to, perhaps a number of minutes later during a convenient break in the action, see a replay of said “good decision” that exposes his own sensorial inadequacy, what then?

Suddenly, Owen’s mind, his authority as a co-commentator, his very existence, in a way, is thrown into a bottomless spiral of doubt, where eyes are not to be trusted. His sense of sight led him to believe one thing, but then new visual input, still being received by the same pair of eyes that betrayed him earlier, has contradicted the once firmly-held belief. What to believe now? The first visual input, or the second? Which is the imposter, or could they both be? Should the digitally manipulated, retroactively-provided version of life be the one I base my decisions on, or should I rely on the conduit through which I must live in the actual moment, ie: my senses? These senses are the same assets I’ve based a successful career as an athletic spherical leather-shepherd on, why should I ignore them now? What consequences will I, Michael James Owen, face if the referee’s decision, one I championed as, oh Heavens, “good” not 5 minutes ago, has been a falsehood of the highest order? Will Louise be dragged into this? Are the horses at risk?

Imagine this going on in the, yes, possibly smaller than normal-sized brain of Owen’s, as he now grapples, just as Descartes did, with reality as it flickers intangibly like a candle’s flame, long-burning in the ornate halls of an abandoned Italian monastery. He must say something to steady himself, he has to offer up some articulation that will act as mind-preserving rung to which he might cling and save his sanity.

“You have to believe your own eyes, don’t you?”. Ah, there, that’s much better. Oh, they’ve scored have they? Sorry, I was elsewhere.

“That would’ve been a goal had it gone inside the post.”

Ok…*wipes away perspiration caused by great mental-stretching/BS-ing*…this one…right, this one means…it…wait, it’ll come to me, there’ll be a Eureka moment any second now, I just have to force it out…hnaarrrgh! *pop!*

All right, they aren’t all gems. Owen isn’t alone in doing the good work he’s doing for BT Sport, on behalf of the organisation to which he, and all co-commentators belong, the International Media-Based Establishment of co-Commentators to Improve the Live Emittance of Sport (IMBECILES). Plenty of ex-footballers are making king’s ransom salaries professionally stating the bleeding obvious on television, and Owen just happens to be one of the newest and most conspicuous. I, for one, thoroughly enjoy his meandering non-sequiturs, which I’d have thought should be obvious by now. And as they get more and more wacky, prod further and further into the bizarre, rabbit-hole recesses of my mind, all one can really say to cope with it all is:

Sometimes you have to believe your own ears, don’t you?

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