When people think of the young Michael Owen that broke through at Liverpool, they may feel he should have achieved more. But the man himself has no regrets…
When Owen scored on his Liverpool debut as a 17-year-old in 1997, fans were understandably rather excited. The young striker had scored goals at a remarkable rate during his youth career, both for the Reds and for England, and the manner of his first senior performance and the way in which he took his first goal certainly set tongues wagging. Here was the next big hope.
Twenty-three goals the following season suggested the hype was real. A certain World Cup goal for England against Argentina didn’t do his reputation much harm either.
Owen eventually left Liverpool in 2004 with 158 goals to his name from only 297 appearances. He was the club’s top scorer in seven consecutive seasons.
Many would argue his effectiveness had already started to wane by this point, and his tally of 19 in his final season at Anfield was actually his worse for four years.
Still, his record that season still read as a goal every two games and was enough to earn him a move to the mighty Real Madrid. All the predictions people had made about that 17-year-old seven years earlier had come true. He was a superstar.
Unfortunately, we all know how the rest of the story goes. Despite scoring 16 goals in his first season at Real, Owen was deemed a failure and sold to Newcastle United. Injuries meant he played only 14 times in two seasons.
Owen returned to top score for the Magpies in 2007-08 and 2008-09, albeit with modest totals of 13 and 10 in all competitions, before he made a controversial transfer to Manchester United in 2009.
He won the Premier League while at Old Trafford and scored a few crucial, memorable goals, but he was signed as and remained a back-up, making only 31 appearances in the league across three seasons.
When he then spent the last year of his playing career sat on the bench at Stoke City, plenty of people were left questioning the choices this once brilliant striker had made.
But there is little Owen would have done differently.
“Could I have achieved more? I am happy with what I did in my career, but it was frustrating to be injured so often at the back end of my career,” he says.
“There are plenty of ifs, buts and maybes in the second half of my career and I feel I would have broken the England scoring record if injuries did not get in my way and probably Fabio Capello as well.
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“He left me out of the England squad at a time when I felt I still could have done a job and that is a source of annoyance. That scoring record of Bobby Charlton was in my sight, but I was around 27 when I was dropped.
“But I can’t have regret over that. He didn’t pick me, there was nothing else I could do about it.”
Owen does acknowledge, however, that injuries dulled his effectiveness.
“You do lose confidence when you start picking up injuries and it affects the way you play,” he says. “I started doing things differently when I didn’t have confidence in my body and that was not nice.
“As a kid, I was the best player in England in all my different age groups. I was quicker than anyone else and felt like I would score goals at whatever level I was put in at.
“That continued when I got into the Liverpool first team and the England squad, so it was hard when I had the injury problems and that extra edge I thought I had was taken away.”
Although Owen’s move to Old Trafford lost him a lot of goodwill on Merseyside, his three years playing for Liverpool’s fierce rivals certainly didn’t affect his love of the club where he grew up. In fact, he says he tried to engineer a return to Anfield before United came calling.
“When I close my eyes and think of what shirt I was wearing in my career, it would always be a red Liverpool shirt,” the BT Sport pundit says.
“That’s the club I started at, where I had some of my best memories, the club in my heart. I tried to go back several times and it was close a couple of times, but it wasn’t to be.
“Then I had to look at other clubs to continue my career and I have no regret about joining Newcastle, Manchester United or Stoke for my final season.
“Maybe those clubs didn’t see the best of me for a variety of reasons, but I can honestly say I gave my all at every club I was at and that is all you can do in a sporting career.
“Some Liverpool fans were disappointed that I joined United, but that was one of the times when I tried to go back to Liverpool and the door was not open.
“What was I meant to do? I had to play for someone and the opportunity to join a massive club like United, work under Sir Alex Ferguson and challenge for trophies was too good to turn down.”
Owen may have expected to win more than one Premier League and one League Cup during his time at United, but either way, any success he achieved would have needed to be something special to top the feeling he had when winning the FA Cup with Liverpool in 2001.
“That will always be the one moment that takes pride of place in my career,” he says. “I was lucky to win a lot of medals, England caps and play for some of the biggest clubs in the world, but that day in Cardiff was special.
“I scored two goals against a very good Arsenal side that had plenty of chances to beat us, but I scored two decent goals and we got our hands on the trophy.
“It will always be the best day of my career. Football should all be about winning trophies and I remember the pride my family felt after my goals that day. It was my only FA Cup final and a wonderful memory.
“They say the value of that competition has diminished in the last few years, but finishing fourth in the Premier League is not the dream you have growing up. You want to win trophies and that is why I look back on that day with so much satisfaction.”
By Kevin Palmer
This article was originally published in December 2017.