Not many players have divided opinion amongst Liverpool fans as Michael Owen has. A supremely talented goal scorer, Owen seemed a certainty to replace Robbie Fowler as the darling of the Kop, whilst breaking all domestic and international records for Liverpool and England.
But a footballer’s life is not so straightforward and Chester born Michael Owen, the son of ex-Evertonian Terry Owen, fell agonisingly short.
At Deeside Primary School, Owen’s 97 goals had dwarfed the previous record by 25 goals, scored by a certain Ian Rush of St Asaph. Aged 13, Owen turned down Arsenal and Manchester United to join Liverpool. Three years later at the age of 16 he graduated from the Lilleshall School of excellence.
It was an injury to the talismanic Robbie Fowler that led to Owen being thrust into the first team, lining up just in front of the mercurial Steve McManaman. The child prodigy had sailed through the Anfield youth ranks and inevitably scored on his Liverpool debut.
At St Etienne in 1998, Owen scored one of the greatest goals seen at the World Cup finals, taking David Beckham’s flighted pass to run the length of the field, brushing off seasoned veterans such as Chamot, Vivas and Ayala before lofting the ball over the eccentric Carlos Roa. That moment heralded his arrival as Liverpool’s latest global superstar.
Liverpool’s boy wonder became the talk of world football. Owen possessed rocket acceleration, was a deadly poacher and his positional play was excellent. He was calm, collected, and intelligent. Owen shunned the bright lights. There was no need to worry about the club being bought into disrepute by an unfolding scandal. His handsome outlook and intelligent reasoning made him a footballing ambassador.
The World Cup was Michael Owen’s stage. In 2001, the Liverpool star teamed up with Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey to destroy Oliver Kahn in Munich during a qualifier for the 2002 tournament.
In Shizuoka, Owen scored Englands opener against Brazil in the World Cup quarter finals but couldn’t prevent Rivaldo and Ronaldinho’s famous chip over David Seaman sealing victory for the eventual tournament winners.
A heartbreaking move to Madrid may have meant untold riches at one of the world’s glamour clubs, but it cost him legend status as a footballer and in my opinion leaves him with a legacy that is not as assured as it should have been. Real Madrid cost Owen the opportunity to play in Istanbul. He was a TV pundit and watched as his ex team mates completed the most amazing comeback ever to lift European footballs premier trophy for the fifth time.
Despite 13 goals for Madrid, Owen returned home to a disastrous spell at Newcastle United, before joining Manchester United. It is this choice that has been difficult for many Liverpool fans to stomach. Liverpool fans are a fairly forgiving breed though. I was on the Kop during Jamie Carragher’s testimonial game against Everton and despite the much touted “thunderstorm reception” the majority of fans were appreciative of Owen’s 118 goals and his achievements for Liverpool.
Owen scored in four successive international tournaments. Injuries and being out of favour with Fabio Capello (one sub appearance against France) have cost him Bobby Charlton’s England record.
Still he collected that elusive Barclays Premier League medal last year, patient as Nemanja Vidic and the younger players lifted high before honing in and clasping it tight.
There will justifiably be detractors amongst the Red hordes, but for me Owen joins Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker as one of England’s modern day striking greats.