Michael Owen, a Liverpool legend, entered football’s world stage at the young age of seventeen in 1997. Owen had unprecedented athletic explosiveness, simultaneously matched with an almost unnerving air of composure. Lacking an internal variable frequency drive, Owen’s ability for instant acceleration was remarkable. He was a precise finisher and accurate striker, marking Owen as extraordinary from the start.
A graduate of the famed School of Excellence at Lilleshall (running from 1984 to 1999), Owen’s training as a youth was second-to-none. In trials within a group of 2,000 competing fourteen-year-olds, Michael worked his way through, ultimately winning a seat in the small group of 16 of the country’s best footballers in this age group. Established by England manager Bobby Robson and the FA’s technical director at the time, Charles Hughes, Lilleshall’s objective was to give these boys “…the opportunity of developing as a selected young talented player, in the ideal environment, with the best coaches for a maximum amount of time.”
There was already a significant amount of buzz and hype around the young (but audacious) forward by the time he attracted the attention of Liverpool manager, Roy Evans. Evans gave him his first opportunity to shine at Wimbledon on May 6, 1997, stating, “…if you are good enough you are old enough.”
Just sixteen minutes after leaving the bench, Owen proved his unabashed determination by charging through Stig Inge Bjornebye’s through-ball ahead of Brian McAllister. He planted the ball firmly into the bottom corner of the goal with a precisely executed right-foot strike. Only 17, Owen shone like the sun on the pitch with a childlike enthusiasm for goal scoring that was nothing less than contagious to the cheering crowd.
This was the beginning of the Chester native’s seven seasons at Anfield. During his time in Liverpool, he collected 158 goals (an average of two per game) and a Final Cup win for the team for which he became a legend . He concluded the 1997-1998 season with 23 goals out of 44 matches in total - a stunning debut record for the history books.
It was in 1998 that the Frenchman, Gerard Houllier, was invited to join Roy Evans as joint team manager in Liverpool. Although Houllier’s approach was safety-first, Owen’s explosive style, with unbridled abandon, contained sudden bursts of electricity, stunning accuracy and a barely-contained and palpable excitement that was truly infectious. Owen was unstoppable.
Michael, quickly gaining recognition and fan favoritism, was called up for England. It was in February of 1998, at the young age of 18, that he made his senior debut for England in a game against Chile at the old Wembley stadium. This capped off a season in which he replaced Robbie Fowler as Liverpool’s main striker, scoring 18 Premier League goals, and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
A rising star, and in the wake of a fantastic generation, he excelled in the 1998 World Cup by scoring a phenomenal goal against Argentina. Weaving through a series of challenges, he executed a breathtaking individual effort by clipping a finish into the net. He pirouetted around Roberto Ayala and Jose Chamot, and let his shot fly past Carlos Roa between the sticks from range. Though England was ultimately eliminated, their number 20 gained instant fame.
Top scorer in the English championship in 1998 and 1999, winner of the Cup and the UEFA Cup in 2001, he won the prestigious distinction of the Ballon d'Or in 2001. Beating out the Spaniard Raul and the German Kahn, Owen went down in English footballing history as the fourth player to win the prestigious award, following Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton and Kevin Keegan - a legend amongst legends.
During this season, Michael was contributing an average of a goal every game and a half, which helped Liverpool win the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup. Until Wayne Rooney entered the scene, he was England’s youngest top goal-scorer for a long time.Speed, dribbling, precision. He had everything. Owen quickly emerged as one of the key players of the selection. In 2001, he slammed a historic hat trick against Germany in Munich (5-1). He became the first English player to score at least one goal in four major international competitions. Owen also became the youngest player ever to reach 100 Premier League goals.
His career-defining moment took place at the Millennium Stadium in May 2001, when Liverpool met Arsenal in the FA Cup final. With the Reds significantly outplayed and trailing 1-0 as the game neared its climax, the now number 10 player struck twice in the last seven minutes, single-handedly bringing the trophy back to Merseyside.
Still only 22 at the time, the Three Lions striker had already established himself as an irreplaceable holder on the front of the attack with Emile Heskey. The duo entranced Europe with their undeniable talent as they brought their third UEFA Cup back to Anfield after a breathtaking game against Deportivo Alavés.
By the end of the year, his performances had earned him the honor of European Footballer of the Year ahead of the likes of Raul and Luis Figo - becoming the first man to win the prize while playing for Liverpool. This was just the beginning…
The goals kept coming. In both 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons, Owen struck the target 28 times, his personal best for a single season at Anfield. His crucial strikes ensured Liverpool regained their place in the Champions League at the close of 2003-2004, as Gerard Houllier handed the managerial reins over to Rafael Benitez.
A transfer to the Spanish heavyweight Real Madrid was finalized in August 2004, bringing an end to a goal-laden spell with Liverpool which included four major trophies. Only Ronaldo (22 goals) outscored him at Real, with Owen finishing four goals above club legend Raul, and also scoring in a 4-2 El Clasico win over Barcelona.
"It was as wonderful as it sounds. It was fabulous playing with some of these great players, training with them every day was brilliant." - Michael Owen. He stayed on at Real for only one year and would later switch back to Barclays Premier League football with Newcastle United and subsequently Manchester United and Stoke City before retiring from the game at the end of the 2012-13 season.
A horse racing enthusiast, Owen co-owns a thriving training yard called Manor House Stables and even had a go as a jockey himself in 2017 in a charity race at Ascot where he finished in second place.
Few players reach the hearts of football fans like Michael Owen did. He was a truly exceptional player with amazing goals. One in particular will always remain in our mind... On a cold night in St. Etienne, a young man set fire to the football world with one of the most extraordinary goals, and a divine demonstration of football. Ladies and gentlemen: Michael Owen. One of our favorite players of all time, Owen was electric on the pitch – a true TENLEGEND.
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