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SHOULDN’T Michael Owen gracefully retire? Once such a golden boy, an 18-year-old star of the 1998 World Cup finals, beyond doubt one of the finest, purist English talents of the last couple of decades. A shocking series of injuries has taken the edge off his speed and his game, he has lost his England place, despite somewhat fatuous attempts in certain quarters to propose his return.

He is leaving Newcastle United after deeply disappointing, enormously well paid years; and still wants to carry on. Which has produced the pathos of a kind of extended begging letter, setting out his virtues, his exploits, his saintly character, and his desperate desire to play on. But why? He is a very rich young man, who owns a string of racehorses, financially set up for life. The last few seasons, thanks alas to all those injuries – and it’s been suggested that Newcastle trained him too hard when he returned last summer – have seen him even when he has been fit enough to play a parody of the gloriously quick, brave, incisive spearhead that he used to be.

And I speak as one who treasures the memory of seeing him as a teenager make a splendid debut for Liverpool as a sub, at Selhurst Park. Hull City are said to be interested in him, with the possibility of a basic contract, augmented by appearance money, In all logic, the only kind of contract any club could logically give him is on a match to match basis, which could well be too great an insult to his pride. Meanwhile, whoever encouraged him to bring out this brochure gave him rotten advice.

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HOW encouraging to read that in a wide ranging investigation, one in four young South Africans admitted to have been guilty of rape. The Confederations Cup, small scale as it was, gives no real indication of what awaits the hundreds of thousands of fans who will pour into South Africa for the 2010 World Cup finals. No doubt the extra stadia will be built in time, but what of the inadequate railways?

Sepp Blatter bleats on, though even he complained when only 21,000 spectators attended an early game. But South Africa was never more than a misguided political choice; who so nearly got the nod for the 2006 tournament, in the event so well organised by Germany. And then it was only the refusal of the elderly New Zealand FIFA representative Charlie Dempsey to vote for South Africa, despite his brief, which gave Germany the chance.

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