Michael Owen’s footballing story began when he was just 13 and signed schoolboy forms with English giants Liverpool.
The striker’s progress through the youth ranks was rapid and he won the FA Youth Cup in 1996 – scoring a hat-trick in the final - before coming off the substitutes’ bench and netting in his first-team debut in a Premier League game against Wimbledon in 1997 as a 17-year-old.
From then he never looked back and became a regular for the Merseyside outfit from the 1997-98 season onwards after he seized his opportunity after an injury to Anfield legend Robbie Fowler.
Amazingly, he bagged 23 goals in his first full season - 18 of which were in the league – allowing him to share the Premier League’s golden boot award with Chris Sutton and Dion Dublin.
He identically matched that goals tally the next year, managing to do so despite playing less games, and tied for the golden boot with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Dwight Yorke in what was Manchester United’s famous treble season.
After an injury-hit 1999-2000 season saw him restricted to 11 league goals, he enjoyed the best spell of his career to date during the three seasons from 2000-2003.
In those campaigns he scored a sensational 80 goals as he helped Liverpool to the Uefa Cup, FA Cup and two League Cups. Famously, in the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal, he single-handedly turned what was looking like a certain defeat into a 2-1 win for the Reds with two late goals at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Individually, he landed the famous Ballon d’Or award in 2001 as he was rewarded for the fine goal-scoring form, becoming the first Englishman to do so in 20 years.
What turned out to be his final season for Liverpool was one hit as injury problems returned again, but he still netted 19 times at a ratio of a goal every two games.
A Year In Madrid
Gerard Houllier's sacking at Liverpool and the arrival of Rafael Benitez as manager caused questions over his future and in the summer of 2004, Spanish giants Real Madrid snared the player for a cut-price fee of £8 million plus Antonio Nunez.
The move to Spain did not really work out as Owen was used primarily as a substitute and struggled to make inroads into the first-team despite some decent form and support from Los Blancos’ fans.
Indeed, after making just 15 starts Owen still managed 18 goals and had the best goals per minutes played ratio in La Liga that season.
However, after his lack of first team action, combined with the arrival of Robinho at the Bernabeu, he returned to England with Newcastle United in a £16 million move and arrived at St. James’ Park to huge fanfare and a big-money four-year contract.
Decline With Newcastle
Owen spent the entirety of that contract in the north East, but they turned out to be disastrous for both him and the club as the talented striker struggled to re-produce anywhere near the form of his Liverpool days.
His first two seasons saw the worst injury problems of his career strike and he made just 14 appearances over that period.
Fitness did return for Owen over the next two years and he featured 62 times – becoming team captain as the Geordies attempted to halt a decline that had seen them fall from Champions League participants under Sir Bobby Robson to Premier League strugglers after a string of managerial changes.
He only managed 23 goals in those two years, though, and was unable to prevent the club from dropping out of the Premier League under former team-mate Alan Shearer after a disastrous 2008-09 campaign both on and off the pitch.
With his great early successes at club level, international recognition followed instantly and to date Owen has racked up an impressive 89 caps for England. He has scored 40 goals so far, which places him fourth in the list of all-time goal-scorers for his country.
The defining moment of Owen’s career came in the 1998 World Cup when, as an 18-year-old, he scored ‘that’ goal against Argentina – an outstanding solo run which saw him leave experienced Argentinean defenders for dead before smashing the ball into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Even though England went on to lose on penalties, individual stardom was Owen’s and he became an integral member of the nation’s attack over the next decade.
He scored important goals in the 2002 World Cup as well as in Euro 2000 and Euro 2004 – making him the first Englishman to score in four different major international tournaments.
Although his overall goals tally is not yet top of the charts, he does hold the record for the most competitive England goals scored (26). He has also captained his country on seven occasions.
The 2006 World Cup was a low point for Owen. After failing to score in the first two group games, he went down injured in the early stages of the game against Sweden. It was found he had torn his cruciate knee ligament and he went on to miss the rest of the tournament and nine months of club action.
As his form declined and injury troubles continued, Owen found himself consistently left out of the England squad for the first time under new manager Fabio Capello. To date, he has still been unable to force his way back into the squad and his last international goals came in September 2007.
But all that may change. With Owen being snubbed by the likes of modest Blackburn Rovers, and at one stage seemingly destined for Hull City, a knight in shining armour has appeared to rescue a career in distress.
Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United have taken the gamble, offering what is apparently a largely incentive-based contract to Owen in the hope that he can stay fit and rediscover the net. A base wage of 50,000 pounds a week is said to be heavily augmented by clauses, so even though he's cut his basic salary in half, he has both the opportunity to make more money, and salvage his reputation, too.
Whether he will be re-called to the England set-up with the South Africa World Cup looming will depend hugely on how successful this move to Manchester United proves to be. As such, the year ahead is huge in the career of Michael Owen.
Name: Michael James Owen
Born: December 14 1979 (Chester, England).
Club History: Liverpool (1996-2004), Real Madrid (2004-2005), Newcastle United (2004-2009), Manchester United (2009 -).
Senior Club Honours:
FA Cup (1) 2004
Uefa Cup (1) 2001
League Cup (2) 2001, 2003
European Super Cup (1) 2001
FA Community Shield (1) 2001
Ballon d’Or winner (1) 2001
PFA Young Player of the Year (1) 1998
Premier League Golden Boot (2) 1998, 1999 *
BBC Sports Personality of the Year (1) 1998
*Shared award on both occasions.
Did you know? Pele selected Michael Owen in his list of the 125 greatest living footballers in 2004, when the Brazilian legend marked FIFA’s centenary year by making his nominations. Six other English players were chosen.
Chris Myson, Goal.com
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