Michael Owen never reached the heights many expected, but Adrian Houghton believes the soon-to-be-retired striker deserves to be farewelled with his reputation intact
By ADRIAN HOUGHTON
At 17 years of age, Michael Owen had the world at his feet.
At 33, the former England star is preparing to draw the curtains closed on his football career.
From that iconic moment against Argentina in 1998 to his time as a bit player at Stoke City, the journeyman's script did not quite go to plan.
However, when the dust settles in May and Owen says his goodbyes at the Britannia, his reputation as one of England's finest products should remain intact.
But the wider public might be ponderous on the 'should' or the 'what-ifs' of a career that began in such awe and wonderment.
In his formative years, the quick attacker impressed in Liverpool's youth academy and gained the billing as one of England's best prospects.
It would not be long before a position in the Reds' first-team beckoned.
At the age of 17, a debut and subsequent goal against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park marked the beginning of a meteoric rise.
The following season he was called up to the England national squad and the predatory striker would make an eternal imprint at the 1998 World Cup.
Playing for a country crippled by expectation, the starlet provided the side with the vibrancy and potency the team for which it had been crying.
The baby-faced assassin would go on to score 40 goals in 89 appearances for his country - only nine behind record goalscorer Sir Bobby Charlton.
The nation fell in love with his boyish looks and energy - a new hero was on the scene.
'That' goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.
On Merseyside, direct comparisons will be forever made between himself and Robbie Fowler [both pictured below], the man nicknamed 'God'.
While Reds fans collectively hold Fowler dearer to their hearts - not helped by Owen's brief stint with arch-rivals Manchester United - there will be a place in folklore for their ex-teenage sensation.
Fowler, a man four years his senior, scored 183 goals in 369 matches, whereas Owen's record reads 168 in 297 appearances.
A simple glance will tell you the latter has a better scoring ratio during his time at Anfield.
For all the affection Fowler receives, the achievements of Owen should not be consigned to a mere footnote with the Anfield faithful.
How could anyone ever forget that miraculous intervention in the FA Cup final in 2001 against Arsenal?
Gerard Houllier's team were second-best and completely overpowered by their opponents.
With the score at 1-0 to the Gunners, Owen scored a remarkable late brace to send all connected with Liverpool into wild pandemonium.
Four days later, he was celebrating a treble trophy success after surviving an epic against CD Alaves in the UEFA Cup final.
These were the times to savour before injuries would blight any chance of becoming a certified great.
Nonetheless, the Chester-born footballer can be proud to have played for some of the world's most renowned clubs.
He can cherish a short spell with Real Madrid, four seasons of playing in front of the parochial support at Newcastle's St James Park, tasting title success with United and his final opportunity in English football at Stoke City.
Owen - linked briefly with a move to A-League club Perth Glory in January - cemented his spot in Premier League history this season by becoming only the seventh player to reach 150 goals in the division.
People will dwell on the latter stages of his career, with Owen a victim of premature success with England and Liverpool.
But few can deny the man was world-class on his day.