Former Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle striker: Michael Owen - The Baby-Faced Assassin Who Made Me Love Football
I was 8 years old when it happened. On a dreary Saturday night in September, I vividly remember picking at a Lamb Tikka Balti (something I would normally devour) whilst gazing in awe at the football match taking place on the far from HD ready screen in front me. I’d never seen anything like it. Although largely unaware of the magnitude of what was happening, it was clear that something special was taking place. England demolishing Germany 5-1 in their own back yard just doesn’t happen, right?
After going to bed that night mesmerized and inspired three things in particular from the night’s game stuck with me. I told myself; remember to tell my joke at school on Monday how Germany’s best player had been a Jancker, remember Emile Heskey’s putting celebration for next time you score in the playground and most importantly remember that from now on Michael Owen is your favourite player. I can safely say that it was not only Owen’s breath-taking performance that night in Munich but 2001 as a footballing year which enticed me into falling in love with the beautiful game. With Liverpool winning the treble and with Heskey and Owen forming the best partnership since Ant and Dec what more could go right? Unsurprisingly it was also these 12 months where England and Liverpool’s magical marksman had the world quite literally at his feet. The aptly dubbed ‘Prince of Wales’ goal scoring exploits and match winning performances for club and country (namely his two goals in the last 10 minutes against Arsenal in the 2001 FA Cup Final) fired him to becoming the first British player since Kevin Keegan to win the Ballon D’or.
Although 2001 proved to be the pinnacle of Owen’s career, the diminutive goal machine still carried on in the same incredible goal scoring vain over the next two years. My affection for the smooth faced finisher only grew after watching him bang in 28 goals consecutively during the 2001/02 and 2002/03 seasons. Throw in an England captaincy at the age of 22 in 2002 (the youngest since Bobby Moore) and it was safe to say that my obsession with Liverpool’s number 10 was bordering on creepy. Sadly all good things come to an end. I still remember the gutting blow I felt upon hearing the harrowing news that Michael was off to Madrid in 2004. After following his progress in La Liga, it was sad to see Owen turn into the bit part player that he was destined to become for the majority of his career. What had happened to the match winning, electric forward I had grown so fondly of a few years earlier? He just didn’t suit white. He always looked better in the red of England and Liverpool is the conclusion I have come to (not United’s of course).
So whilst many will argue that Owen’s career was one that comprised mostly of bench warming due to being plagued by injury one thing is for sure, that when fit he delivered. Not only is he England’s fourth highest goal scorer of all time with 40, but he is the only English player to have scored in four major tournaments. Owen’s ability to score big goals in big games is remarkable and it is something that he has achieved wherever he has played. Whilst I have already commented on Owen’s match winning goals for England and Liverpool (as these were his best goals) it must be mentioned that Owen is a man who has scored for Madrid in an El Classico win in 2005, scored the deciding goal in the 4-3 Manchester derby in 2009 and even scored in the 2010 Carling Cup final which United went on to win. Not bad for a player often critiqued for spending more time in the stables than in the box.
So with Owen widely tipped to slide straight from Stoke City’s bench onto the Match of the Day sofas following his retirement at the end of the current season, what kind of legacy does he leave? Yes he was a player who peaked before he reached 25, yes he should have overtaken Bobby Charlton as England’s highest ever goal scorer and yes he should have been scoring wonder goals from mazy runs against Argentinian opposition well into his thirties but quite frankly does any of that matter? Whilst over the coming weeks many will waste time arguing that Owen’s career was blighted by the fact that he was ‘burnt-out’ as a youngster at Liverpool and that his career was finished when he knackered his knee in the first minute of a 2006 world cup game against Sweden I will instead be watching old YouTube clips and remembering the times when he was the world’s deadliest finisher. Michael Owen was one of the main reasons I became a football fanatic, and for that I will always thank him.