Peter Pan and me

There was a moment,few months ago, when for the first time I felt really old.

It was a Monday and I was like many others to the gym to train.

Suddenly on the screen Sky News gave the news: “Michael Owen announces his retirement at the end of the season.”

At first I thought that fatigue was doing tricks.

I got off the treadmill and I approached the screen to listen to his words.

“An emotion that lives with me is a sense of ‘what might have been’ had injuries not robbed me of my most lethal weapon – speed,” he said.

“Many of my highlights were early on in my career and I can only wonder what more I would have achieved had my body been able to withstand the demands that I was making of it. I was almost too quick.

“My hamstring gave way in an away game at Leeds at the tender age of 19 and from that moment on my career as a professional footballer was compromised.

“I actually take great pride in the fact that, even when not fully fit, I still competed at the very highest level playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world. I have no doubt that had I not suffered those ‘pace depriving’ injuries, I would be sat here now with a sack full of awards and a long list records. However, how can I really have any regrets!”

So it was true. The Prodigy Child  was saying goodbye to football.

Michael Owen had come into my life in the summer of the World Cup France ‘98.

The match was England – Argentina where he scored a sensational individual goal after beating defenders Roberto Ayala and José Chamot before striking the ball just outside the penalty box.

That summer,  France won the World Cup in the final against Brazil, Ronaldo won the Golden Ball Adidas, Fabien Barthez won the award for best goalkeeper, and Michael Owen won the award for best young player.

Since then I would follow his exploits over the years, the boy from Liverpool filled my Saturday football in front of the television, and soon after Italy, it was the English national team the one for which I was rooting with all my heart.

John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen … were the team of fairy tales.

The year after the World Cup in France, however, Owen was injured in the match against Leeds and he was forced to 5 months out.

Upon his return, something had changed.

It was still a great player but it was to come down from Olympus.

He had lost speed and magic touch.

After 8 seasons at Liverpool there was a season at Real Madrid, four at Newcastle, three at  Manchester United and at the end, in 2012, he landed at Stoke City.

But something from that 1999 had by now been lost.

I saw Michael Owen to play live for the first time last year at Stamford Bridge and after the game I was able to exchange  few quick words before he got on the coach.

For a day I was back to that summer, I was back to my 13 years old.

His face had changed very little since then, seemed to never aged as Peter Pan

The emotion that I had felt to see him play was strong.

The same strong emotion that I felt at  the announcement of his retirement.

Back in the locker room with a deep sense of melancholy I took my cell phone.

The screen flashed, indicating the presence of a new tweet.

On it there were his words.

A few lines to break the news before his announcement to Sky.

Few lines to thank those who had followed him all those years.

That day I wrote on Facebook: “Michael Owen says goodbye to football. The football world that I knew doesn’t exist anymore.”

Someone maliciously commented on the criteria for selection of players to follow without understanding that this is a matter of feelings.

Alessandro Del Piero and Michael Owen have accompanied me in my teens making me dream along with the best sport in the world.

Now one has been forced “exile” in Australia and the other is ready to leave his role as a player.

I was forced to feel like Wendy, forced to realize that time was passing for me, as for them.

Back home, I found a 10-years-old child who lives with the myth of Lionel Messi and told him: “You know that Michael Owen will retire at the end of the season?”

“It was time. He is old and he is just a duffer.”

I smiled because it was exactly what I thought at his age of the “old guard”.

“Come and I’ll show you something.”

We watched together a video of that magical 1998.

“Oh my God, he was a phenomenon.”

And in his eyes I saw the same emotions that I had felt 15 years ago.

Thank you, Michael.