"But I'm 30, I have been around and I understand how it works. I am not going to kid myself because... I know I am not as good... Maybe 10 years ago you could argue I was – but not now."
It hurts me to read it, not because of the statement's undeniable obviousness but its scathing simplicity, the gentle resignation of the emotion behind it. The mundanity that has come to replace the greatness that once stood in its stead. He must have come to hate that word, that terribly cruel "once" that has shadowed him all of his lime-light filled adult life. But I suspect he no longer does, not because he's tired of it but because I think he truly understands what it means. What it means to be part of a once.
For that has been his destiny, to always be remembered for being young once, to endure the perennial injustice of being a genius that once was. Sport has an almost ruthless curiosity when it comes to its prodigies, filling its lore with tales of the ones who unequivocally fulfilled their potential and the ones who fell by the side along the way. And it's the accidental misfortune of the latter to endure the rest of their lives inches beneath the threshold, condemned to wonder and rue for all of eternity how it could've been different. History may inevitably end up placing Owen in that company, but that tells us more about ourselves than it does anything else. We mortals are easily bored, unsated by mere excellence, we want more, we seek immortality in our idols, we make promises on their behalf and then punish them for reneging on them without ever bothering to think who it was that made them in the first place. Almost as if it was an unforgivable crime for him to have been that teenage footballing prodigy that flood-lit night in St.Etienne twelve years ago. Maybe it's the scourge of genius that it is bestowed upon so few and understood by even fewer.
I admire Owen for many things, but more than his prodigious skills with the ball, I admire his endurance, for abiding with dignity and humility the long chain of injustices handed out to him - to haplessly watch his game deteriorate with every misfortunate injury, to be unwanted by the very people who once idolised him for his abilities and to be incessantly convinced on the sidelines that he was 'past his peak'. Maybe some might say it was inevitable, the resignation, that he had to eventually come to terms with his frailties but even so, the obviousness of a path doesn't make it any less harder, does it? After all, it's not so uncommon, sport's unkindness towards its aging prodigies. Some refuse to acknowledge it and pay the price, some part ways early knowing they can't stomach the reality, some even convince themselves of eternal youth and make fools of themselves and some, like Owen, silently press on every single day, enduring the sublime burdens of dissipated genius.