Tag Archives: Michael Owen

Remembering Greatness: Michael Owen

When teenagers break onto the scene in world football already performing at a high level, football fans are known to get over excited.

We’ve seen it countless times over the years where said player struggles to really hit the heights that people think they can, so it becomes even more special when those same players do make a memorable career out of their talents.

If you look back over the talent that England have produced over the last 30 years, there haven’t been many talents bigger than Michael Owen.

Breaking into the first-team scene at Liverpool is hard enough, but to do it as a striker at 17 years old in a squad that included the likes of Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore is even more special.

He scored on his first team debut at the end of the 1996/97 season against Crystal Palace, before becoming the first choice striker the following season when Fowler picked up an injury. What followed in that season was one of the greatest debut seasons of all-time, as an 18-year-old Owen scored 23 goals in all competitions including 18 in the Premier League to earn himself the golden boot.

That remarkable season earned him a call-up to the England squad for the World Cup under Glenn Hoddle. He scored his first international goal in a pre-tournament friendly against Morocco, where he became the youngest scorer in the countries history at the time.

He was taken to the tournament as a wildcard, an attacking talent that would be unknown to the vast majority of defenders and opposition coaches despite having signed a new bumper contract at Liverpool during the season to make him the highest-paid teenager of all-time.

It was at the World Cup in France where he really made his name, with the stunning solo goal against Argentina remembered by all even until this day. It’s forgotten though that he scored as a substitute in the defeat to Romania in the group stages and won the penalty from which Alan Shearer equalised before his strike. The game memorably went to penalties and Owen converted his too – he was one of few English players who came away with their reputation heightened.

That year he was the runner-up to Zinedine Zidane in the World Player of the Year award and finished in fourth place in both the FIFA World Player of the Year and European Player of the Year awards. He was a superstar.

The following season his greatness continued as he retained the golden boot, but it was arguably the beginning of the end for him already. He picked up a hamstring injury in April against Leeds when running through on goal that ruled him out for the rest of the campaign and it was an issue that plagued him for the rest of his career.

So known for his lightning quick pace, the injury robbed him of his greatest and most dangerous asset less than two full seasons into his career. He was forced to adapt his game after returning and while he was still a phenomenal goalscoring threat, would only ever better the totals of 18 league goals twice more in his entire career.

He was still Liverpool’s main man, with arguably his most iconic Liverpool moment coming in the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal. The Gunners took the lead at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff thanks to Freddie Ljungberg’s goal in the 72nd minute.

Liverpool had struggled to get a foot-hold in the game and rode their luck, with Thierry Henry having a shot cleared off the line moments later and Arsenal just generally dominating the play. Then Owen decided enough was enough and it was his time to take the limelight.

He equalised when a free-kick was nodded down and Owen reacted first from eight yards out to fire low into the corner, before the winner just two minutes from time. Owen showed his trademark pace hadn’t completely left him as he latched onto a pass from Patrick Berger and with just two touches managed to evade Lee Dixon, outpace Tony Adams and then fire past David Seaman on his “weaker” foot into the far corner.

His career after that was riddled by injuries and bad decisions. He eventually moved to Real Madrid in 2004 for the lowly amount of £8m and Antonio Nunez in part-exchange, with a year remaining on his contract. To sum up how good he was for Liverpool, he was their top goalscorer every single season from 1997/98 all the way until he exit following the 2003/04 season.

The time he spent in Madrid is often regarded as a failure but lets apply some context. He failed to break into the starting lineup on a regular basis despite his reputation, but the men ahead of him in the striker positions were Raul – the club’s greatest ever goalscorer at that time – and Ronaldo. The Brazilian one.

He couldn’t play out wide or deeper because he was a striker, a cold-blooded striker. When he did play, he played well though. He scored 16 goals in 45 games that season, but only 26 of those games were starts. He scored in El Clasico, he scored in the Champions League and he finished the season with the best goals-to-minutes ratio of anyone in the squad.

He could have stayed and battled for his spot a bit more, even when Madrid signed two new shiny toys, but he chose to return to England to play regularly. He chose wrong though, opting for Newcastle United when Madrid chose to let him go and both Merseyside clubs couldn’t afford his £16.8m asking price.

From then on, it was a disaster. His body was broken down and he could barely string together a run of games anymore, especially in the more physical Premier League. Despite playing for eight more seasons with Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke he scored just 32 more goals in England’s top flight.

Internationally, his injuries no doubt robbed him of the honour of becoming England’s all-time greatest goalscorer. He ended up with 40 goals for his country, a tally only bettered by Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton at the time of his retirement.

When you think of Owen, many people will think of “wasted talent” but this is to remind you of his greatness. All the praise he receives and all the plaudits he gets are well deserved, he was that good as a teenager and young adult.

Think of everything he achieved and how good he was, then remembered that he was never the same again after his second full season. That’s how good Michael Owen was.

England 02-06 vs Current England Squad

England’s ‘golden generation’ is said to be from World Cup 2002 up until their failure to qualify for Euro 2008.

Some world class footballers represented their nation during that period of time, but they failed to make it past a quarter-final stage of any major tournament during that time under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren.

The current England side managed by Gareth Southgate finished fourth at their only World Cup together so far, finished third in the UEFA Nations League and are one of the favourites going into Euro 2020 next summer with a new golden generation on their way through the ranks.

So who would win if they were to face off in a one-off game today?

For the ‘golden generation’ the starting line-up essentially picked itself back then. There were the odd changes, with Sol Campbell involved at centre-back and left midfield often chopped and changed too. Central midfield had options like Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick and even Paul Scholes at one point all vying but it was Lampard and Gerrard who were more often than not selected together. A young, dynamic and fearless Wayne Rooney was up front alongside the legendary Michael Owen too to provide a huge goal threat.

These days, England’s biggest weakness is central midfield which was arguably the older teams’ greatest strength. The likes of Henderson and Winks have plenty of big-game experience, with Henderson having won the Premier League and Champions League in the last two years. Going forward, Harry Kane is on course to smash Wayne Rooney’s record as all-time top goalscorer for the national team, while Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho are among the best wide players in the game today. The depth in attack is fantastic too, with Marcus Rashford and youngsters such as Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood making the breakthrough to regulars in the international setup. Defensively though, they’re a shambles. Ben Chilwell is the only left-back with any shred of quality even close to being ready for international football at the moment, while Harry Maguire is a guaranteed starter despite his obvious flaws. At right-back, there is plenty of depth but only one man can play and Kyle Walker has proven to be the regular pick for Southgate, despite the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold over the last two-and-a-half years.

In goal, both sides have mediocre No.1’s with Paul Robinson and Jordan Pickford. Overall, both squads have holes but they’re very different.

The current side’s biggest issues are all personnel wise and just a lack of quality or experience for the level. The 02-08 sides biggest issues are the managers and formations deployed instead. In this day and age, it’s so difficult to play 442 without being overrun in midfield. Even with the lack of quality in the current England side, they would likely be able to hold onto the ball much better and look to cause problems with a sheer volume of control.

Defensively, individually, England’s defence was absolutely world-class and club partnerships were able to be re-made. Despite this, Robinson’s presence behind them was poor and the lack of midfield structure often saw them well beaten against the better sides.

It would be a fascinating tie in all honesty, with the pace and energy of the new school able to get at the 02-08 defence several times, but the sheer quality of the team back then would likely be able to edge a win. Wayne Rooney in that time period was one of the best footballers in the world and Michael Owen was lethal, while David Beckham was also at the peak of his powers.

When systems get cancelled out it tends to come down to the individual quality of the players on the pitch and for that reason I think the ‘golden generation’ would be able to scrape a win in a very tightly contested fixture.