With the impending retirement and final matches of three English stalwarts - Michael Owen, Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher - it is time to reflect upon a hole in the English game as a veritable backbone of Association Football rides into the sunset.
These three men were of different positions, requiring different skill sets all calling it a day. All three started their professional careers in their teenage years as products of prestigious academy programs and now retire rich men in their mid to late 30s. Football has given them everything they could imagine, three head now for very different career paths.
Michael Owen looks set to leave football altogether bar the odd studio guest appearance for a live match and follow in the footsteps of another famous England striker, Mike Channon, and focus on his stables as an owner and his ever booming property development.
Paul Scholes is the quiet man and looks set to maintain a long association with Manchester United in either a coaching capacity or an ambassadorial role. Jamie Carragher immediately leaves the pitch to take on a punditry role like his namesake Mr Redknapp and old adversary, Gary Neville, working for Sky Sports although like Neville the door is open to a return to football as a coach.
Most significant about their retirements is that three very fit individuals have all succumbed to this new era of fast and fluid football, by ultimately slowing down. They are the first victims of this continual conveyor belt of football, having to play in highly intense games week in and week out both on domestic and international fronts. They are victims of their own success, by playing for prominent teams they had to play in four competitions throughout the season, regularly hitting 50 games a season (38 league and approximately 12 cup games).
This requirement to play at such a high level put a strain on the body and mind, and led to Paul Scholes retiring from international football after England were eliminated from Euro 2004. Whilst a bold step it nonetheless prolonged Scholes' career as he retires for the second and final time some nine years later.
When Michael Owen burst onto the English football stage at Wimbledon for Liverpool, his game was all about pace and velocity, that burst of speed to go away from a defender that he left standing still. Owen like Thierry Henry revolutionised the play of forwards, whose speed scared defenders. Unfortunately, Owen through a series of hamstring injuries got slower as the years passed, he could still be a fox in the box but a series of injuries helped lose his mystery. As his hamstrings got tighter and shorter, the game and defenders got sharper and quicker.
It seems a shame that the memory of him gliding across the turf in St Etienne versus Argentina should come so young in his career and that the same career be one that was seemingly unfulfilled, we should be talking about goal figures akin to Jimmy Greaves, and yet we are closer to Frank Lampard.
Carragher is one of those defenders who like Gary Mabbutt and Mark Wright will forever be unheralded and underrated. The admiration for Carragher comes from his ability to take what looks like a basic skill set and blossom into a fully fledged England international (38 caps) and the second most league appearances for Liverpool with 737 (should he play on Sunday afternoon) and 11 major honours.
Carragher is also that rare breed - like Scholes - of being part of the fabric of his hometown team. The Liverpool vice-captain would rather call it a day than kick a ball in vain for another club, fittingly Carragher bleeds the red of Liverpool. His stubborn self-belief, determination and pride were never more evident on that famous night in Istanbul in 2005 when his rearguard effort along with Jerzy Dudek in goal, were as inspirational as Steven Gerrard. You can recall Carragher diving again to block another goal bound shot in the late stages of extra time when he just lay on the turf riddled with cramp, yet he would not ask for treatment for fear of leaving the field and conceding.
It seems a shame that Carragher retires with only 38 caps to his name, as he was a victim of being apart of a great class of defenders who were just that bit better than him due to height, ball control and domination of the aerial battle - Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ledley King and Sol Campbell.
Tellingly, this Sunday sees three names and former England internationals retire and another three from that great night in Munich on 1st September 2001 call it a night. For Owen that was his best night of football, for Scholes it was another quiet impactful performance before Frank Lampard's goalscoring consistency led to Sven-Goran Eriksson question how to put three of Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard into two positions. The laughable notion of asking Scholes to play left midfield probably sped up Scholes' retirement decision and although Carragher was an 83rd minutes substitution for Scholes he nevertheless was there and part of the team.
Memories and odes will be written for all these men by fans of them who are greater than myself, yet is it not surprising that all three men came through the youth ranks of Liverpool and Manchester United, for Scholes he was a part of the greatest youth team in living memory. But is there not a lesson there for all these owners who pour money into the coffers of managers by buying in product from overseas, the talent is in this country and can be found if nurtured correctly.
Whilst Owen struggled to find a home and played for both Carragher and Scholes' one and only clubs, the way Carragher and Scholes have served their respective clubs with dignity, passion and their own unique brand of panache is worth its weight in gold, irrespective of the amount of silverware they have claimed.