For Michael Owen it all happened so long ago.
So long ago, these last six or seven years of his career have been not much more than a lengthy prelude for his announcement yesterday.
The truth is, as an effective, potent, capable striking force he effectively slipped into retirement pretty soon after he came back from Real Madrid in 2005.
From his arrival at Newcastle that summer to yesterday he played but 107 club matches. Across eight seasons, that averages out at no more than 13 a year: it is hard to burn yourself on to the wider consciousness when you are just a bit-part player.
Lucky for Owen, then, that he had achieved enough before his hamstrings were frayed to establish his legacy. Because make no mistake about it, in those early days of his career he was something special.
It is not the rosy tint of hindsight that changes perception: he really was that good.
With that goal against Argentina in 1998, the hat trick against Germany and his cup-winning goals for Liverpool, all achieved before he was 21 he threatened to be the greatest English forward of all time.
The electric-heeled finisher with ice in his veins, for a time there seemed to be no doubt he would eventually snaffle every goal-scoring record around - 40 for England seemed to be but the beginning.
Pace has long been football’s most potent weapon.
But the thing about Owen as a young man was that he combined a sprinter’s speed with a ruthless football intelligence. Theo Walcott has pace, but rival defenders do not shiver with apprehension every time he receives the ball in the manner they did when Owen set off goalwards. For a start, when he went on a run, Owen seldom forgot to take the ball with him.
His problem was, when his hamstrings began to rebel, it removed from him his most potent asset. After the knee injury in the World Cup in 2006, the one which obliged the FA to pay out a record £10million of compensation to Newcastle, he never found anything which could compensate for the departure of his turn of pace.
Let go by Newcastle (and with very little mourning from the club’s followers) he spent three years acquainting himself with Manchester United’s treatment room. Sure, he endeared himself to United fans with a last-second winning goal in the local derby, but his was a name that was no more than a footnote in the club history. His few laboured appearances at Stoke latterly did not suggest he was wrong to throw in the towel.
From Paul Gascoigne through Andrew Flintoff to – whisper it – Fernando Torres, the history of sport is littered with those who seemingly made a Faustian pact, paying for moments of unimpeachable glory with injury-induced public decline.
But Owen is the one who hung on the longest in the fond hope that he could somehow defy the terms of the agreement and come back as good as new. Or if not quite as good, then at least offering something different. His reserves of self-belief were never diminished.
Even as he kept large swathes of the medical profession in work, Owen never wavered from his absolute faith in his abilities. He was helped by his many admirers in the media who remembered what he had once been and thought he still had much to give the game.
Almost as familiar a story as an Owen injury was the clamour for his return to international duty provoked by his every comeback. A couple of goals in a League Cup first round tie and the headlines insisting he should be in England’s next line-up were immediately brought out. He was not a man short of lobbyists.
It was never to happen. No matter how hard or how often his case was made, for the past five years there has not been a sight of him in an international shirt. Though to his credit, Owen’s positivity never wavered. He kept smiling, kept trying, kept Tweeting his enthusiasm. A guy always on the verge of a comeback, he kept insisting he could make a difference.
Now it is finally over, it would be better to remember him scorching through Argentina’s defence, or suddenly arriving in Arsenal’s penalty area, or wheeling away in absolute joy after planting a third in the back of the German net, of course.
But there was something admirable, too, something that should live in the memory, about the refusal to be cowed which characterised his later years in the game. It is something we can all learn from as we fight the dying of the light.