In meta-sport…You decide on the story long before there is anything so unpredictable to worry about as the match. You pick out what’s “interesting”. You decide on the personal narratives that matter. This is the situation that Michael Owen finds himself in. After years “in the wilderness”—which means being consistently pretty damned good, but not quite as brilliant as we’d hoped—Owen is now a story again. He is interesting again. Hell, he’s on a journey.
This seems unequivocally true for all stories about athletes (See: Favre, Brett). A similar thing could happen with Freddy Adu. He was pronounced to be the next Pele, even better than Owen. He is now only 20 (probably), and has much playing to do. Yet, already, The Big Lead asks:
One wonders why only the most gossip-curious wonder, “What happened to Haley Joel Osment?”, Yet we will certainly seem surprised, pleasantly, when he returns for whatever career he finds in his mid-30s. Actors and artists are not viewed as having potential – in their early forms, they are what they are, geniuses at their specific craft, for that specific task. Athletes are works-in-progress: gifted, but not yet skilled; imbedded with potential, but also primed for a fall. This makes them choice material for a dramatic arc.
So, adapting Ed Smith’s exhortation to Michael Owen, and to the chargin of journalists everywhere, “rejuvenated” athletes should probably just answer questions like this (that is to say, honestly):
“That’s a strange question. Sport is unpredictable. I was on the wrong end of a close call at _________—it could have gone either way. Now _______ have taken a punt on me. That’s life. I may have lost a bit of pace but I’m basically the same player. Circumstances changed, but I didn’t. Let’s see what happens next, shall we?”