Last week Michael Owen announced his retirement from football at the end of the season. Owen has played over 400 games for club and country, scoring 203 goals in the process. Many will remember his heroics in 1998 and 2001 for England and Liverpool but many people will also have forgotten just how good Owen was at full tilt. He was a remarkable striker, goal scorer, and athlete. His pace would cut defences apart and his eye for goal was second to none around the world in his early years.
Questions have been raised as to why Owen has failed to hit those early heights throughout his career, despite never playing outside the top divisions in both England and Spain, but I would like to take this time to give some appreciation back to Michael Owen, one of my early footballing heroes who has given me some of my greatest memories in football to date.
1. Manchester United vs Liverpool, Premier League 97/98, Old Trafford:
“And Owen is through here for Liverpool… And slips it past Schmeichel to score”.
Michael Owen’s career set off like a steam train, and the season we remember him bursting onto the scene was in 97/98. This goal, against arch-rivals Manchester United, is a goal that all Liverpool supporters will remember him fondly for. In his first full season at Liverpool, Owen collected the honours of PFA Young Player of the Year AND the Golden Boot, something which hasn’t been repeated in Premier League history and quite likely won’t happen again. This season set Owen up perfectly for what was about to unfold in France that summer.
Owen’s career in lift-off.
2. Argentina vs England, World Cup 1998, France:
“And still Michael Owen… What a goal by Michael Owen! Is there nothing beyond this 18-year-old?”
That line of commentary has just been said because a schoolboy has rang rings around one of the best defences in world football. Owen has scored one of the most-remembered goals in World Cup history, picking the ball up on the halfway line and gliding his way towards the penalty area, skipping through challenges and then thrashing the ball past the Argentine goalkeeper before wheeling away with his hands waving up towards the sky.
He quickly became England’s golden boy of a new generation which was to be called the “Golden Generation”, sadly a title which never reached its potential in big tournaments. Owen, alongside David Beckham, were the two players in that game which made a real impact on England supporters and media, but only one for the right reasons.
Beckham’s red card overshadowed Owen’s goal and England crashed out of the tournament, but many England fans still talk of that Owen strike as one of the best individual moments in English football history.
Owen’s name world-renowned.
3. Arsenal vs Liverpool, FA Cup Final 2001, Millennium Stadium:
“Lovely ball through by Berger has reached Owen here… Oh and he’s scored! Michael Owen has won the FA Cup for Liverpool.”
Maybe Owen’s greatest ever achievement in domestic competition. Liverpool had been totally outplayed by Arsenal all afternoon in the scorching May heat in Cardiff, something Owen himself later admitted. Arsenal led 1-0 going into the final ten minutes of the Cup final before Owen equalised with almost his first shot on goal. 84 minutes on the clock and Patrick Berger’s ball through fell at the feet of Owen who, despite being a lonely figure as the spearhead of Liverpool’s attack all afternoon, managed to turn on the after burners and leave Lee Dixon in his wake before sliding the ball past David Seaman and again wheeling away in delight.
Liverpool, from nowhere, had won the FA Cup thanks to Michael Owen. Not many footballers can claim they have had a Cup final named after them, Matthews, Gerrard, Owen… An established list of talent.
Owen is peaking here.
4. Germany vs England, World Cup Qualifiers 2001, Munich:
“And still Michael Owen… Ohhhhh this is getting better and better and better!”
The pinnacle of Michael Owen’s career. The fact this came while he was still only 21 years of age says a lot about the man. England went to Germany needing to win to regain the ascendancy of the qualifying group in the run down to the final qualifiers before Japan/South Korea 2002, a World Cup which again would be the setting where Owen took centre stage, scoring against Brazil in the Quarter Final.
Having fell 1-0 behind early on, England regrouped and Owen managed to sneak an equaliser before Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard netted before half time to give England a 2-1 lead. Owen took the German defence apart in the second 45 minutes in Munich that night, scoring twice more to complete a wonderful international hat-trick which would go down in England folklore, none more so because it was against the Germans.
Owen is a hero.
5. Manchester United vs Manchester City, Premier League 09/10, Old Trafford:
“Into the 94th minute at Old Trafford now, Giggs, to Michael Owen… Manchester United have won it, Michael Owen!”
A last gasp winner at Old Trafford for Manchester United, nothing new there right? Wrong. Owen had controversially left Newcastle in the summer of 2009 after they were relegated, something which has now caused plenty of discussion between the two parties after Owen claimed they hadn’t offered him a renewed contract, as reported in the media. Sir Alex Ferguson wasted no time in utilising Owen’s talent and despite the striker losing a yard of pace and that match sharpness, he was in the right place at the right time to win the Manchester derby for United in stoppage time 4-3.
Owen isn’t fading without a fight.
This would prove to be one of Owen’s final magical moments in football, eventually winding up at Stoke City this season after many long-term injuries put pay to his career at Old Trafford. The man who once shook the world now barely gets a touch of a football at the mere age of 33, a footballer who peaked at age 21, something very uncommon in modern football.
Owen now spends a lot of time involved with his horses, and has a large family now which he routinely showcases on Twitter to show his pride outside of the game of football. He will be remembered for many things, but the way he scored goals for fun in the early part of his career should be why we remember him fondly.
An ode to Michael Owen.
Career Honours: Youngest ever Premier League footballer to reach 100 goals, 40 goals for England, UEFA Cup 2001, UEFA Super Cup 2001, FA Cup 2001, League Cup 2001, 2003, PFA Young Player of the Year 1998, BBC Sports Personality of the Year 1998, Golden Boot 1998, 1999, European Footballer of the Year 2001.