Monday 15 June ~
You may have heard that Michael Owen’s management company, WMG, have circulated a 34 page brochure to potential employers. There is no truth in the rumour that it comprises a covering note and 33 pages of medical reports. Owen’s injury record is mentioned, of course, alongside a section entitled “tabloid stories and the truth” which seeks to address the perception that Owen is injured most of the time and that he has long since decided that moving to Newcastle was a mistake. There are also sections on his career achievements and goalscoring stats, and a page listing 21 virtues that constitute his brand value. Some of these points are uncontroversial, including that he is “sincere” and “good looking”, others more contentious, notably that he is “charismatic” and – here it comes again – “fit and healthy”.
Sam Rush, WMG’s chief executive, says that the review seeks to highlight Owen’s “commercial benefits and international name awareness”. Indeed, this justification for what amounts to a long begging letter highlights a general trend towards footballers being marketed as individual sportsmen rather than people who function as part of a team. This isn’t a new development – players’ contracts have long since included deals for their “image rights” – but it is becoming more widespread because many football fans around the world clearly follow players rather than specific clubs; Real Madrid’s acquisition of David Beckham was partly prompted by the expectation that he would be a major boost to their marketing in parts of South East Asia where he already had an enormous personal following.
But this only serves to highlight how far Michael Owen’s star has waned. When he played for England at the 1998 World Cup at the age of 18 it might have been expected that he would be a globally-renowned name for the rest of his career. Instead, despite two big money moves, he has been in steady decline since his early-20s principally because of all those injuries that his agents understandably want to play down. In 2009, the Michael Owen brand is not likely to shift extra merchandise in Tokyo or Seoul. Unless of course he was to be called back into the England squad – which is only likely if he has an injury-free season and manages to convince a clearly sceptical Fabio Capello.
WMG have had their catalogue translated into Spanish and Italian and it has been sent to a handful of Premier League clubs – but not newly minted Sunderland as Owen is believed to not want to remain in the North East. “Through circumstances he find himself,” says the brochure, “about to make the biggest decision of his football career.” WMG neglect to mention it, but he might even be forced to more than halve his weekly wage to just £50,000. Some people have it tough.