Michael Owen believes his match-winning performance for Liverpool in the 2001 FA Cup final was as close as he came to perfection in his goal-laden career.
Promoting his much-discussed book Reboot in Dublin, Owen says his two-goal display that won Gerard Houllier’s Reds the FA Cup against Arsenal in a Cardiff final provided a lasting snapshot of his peak years.
Owen went on to win the Ballon d’Or after his stunning performances for Liverpool and England in 2001 and he says the game in Cardiff gave him the biggest high of his career, ahead of his memorable solo goal in the 1998 World Cup finals for England against Argentina.
“If I could live one day of my career again, it would be that FA Cup final in 2001,” Owen told us. “Back then, I believed anything was possible and with good reason.
“I had been the best at my age group right to playing in the World Cup finals when I was still a teenager and scoring that goal against Argentina. In my head, nothing seemed impossible for me on a football field and I knew that if I had a chance that day against Arsenal I would score.
“I had come into the game in red hot form and was banging goals everywhere, so I just wanted one chance, but as the game goes into 70 minutes and 80 minutes, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen against a top Arsenal side.
“They had some fantastic players and were not far off the team that went through the Premier League season unbeaten a three years later, but we hung in there and we were still only a goal behind heading into the final few minutes.
“I felt Arsenal’s players were jaded and once I scored that goal, I knew the second one was coming. In all my career, I probably never had a feeling as strong as that. I was convinced I would score again and we would win.
“Then it happened, I scored the second goal and we won the FA Cup. It was an incredible feeling and a fantastic day for me.”
Owen went on to dismiss suggestions he fell out of love with the game as injuries affected his progress in the final years of his career, claiming headlines created before his book was officially released created a false impression of what he had written.
“I heard a debate when they were asking why Michael Owen hates football so much,” he said.
“Well, I never actually said that! What I said was I didn’t enjoy the second half of my career as much as the first and that is the reality, with injuries getting in the way of what I wanted to do.
“I was able to perform at my best in the first half of my career, I was playing for a club I loved, I was in the England team and everything was going great for me. Then injuries struck and I was hamstrung for long periods in the second half of my story and there is no shame in admitting that was very frustrating.
“The accusation that I didn’t enjoy the second half of my career is misguided, but that is what happens when you bring out a book like this as a few thoughts are cherry-picked and turned into something they shouldn’t be. It can make you look awful.
“Then you hear fans saying he lost his love for the game and he didn’t try when he was playing for us, but none of that is true. I simply couldn’t play as I wanted due to my injuries, that is the reality.
“I still had some great times at the back end of my career, even if I was not at my best physically.”
Michael Owen: Reboot, published by Reach Sport, is on sale now. Digital and audiobook also available.
By Kevin Palmer