Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Michael Owen (28)

Goal.com are counting down England's greatest players of all time and number 28 is the little Chester-born poacher, Michael Owen...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes
No.37 - Nat Lofthouse
No.36 - Eddie Hapgood
No.35 - Chris Waddle
No.34 - David Platt
No.33 - Phil Neal
No.32 - Johnny Haynes
No.31 - Peter Beardsley
No.30 - Ray Clemence
No.29 - Ted Drake
Michael James OWEN
Born14/12/1979
Chester, Cheshire
England89 caps, 40 goals
ClubsLiverpool
Real Madrid
Newcastle United


Newcomers to the English game watching Newcastle United's performances this year may find it hard to believe that Michael Owen was once the golden boy of European football. Exiled from the Three Lions and battling for a spot in Alan Shearer's line-up, his best years have certainly passed him by.

But that doesn't change the fact that, in his pomp, the striker was among the most lethal players going around.

The son of Terry Owen, himself a handy forward sprung from Everton's ranks, Michael was raised in Hawarden, Wales. His record-breaking form at school level attracted the interest of several top-flight clubs and, despite his Goodison heritage, he snubbed the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United to join Liverpool's youth setup at the age of 14.

After graduating from the FA's Academy of Excellence at Lilleshall and winning the FA Youth Cup, Owen agreed professional terms with the Reds in 1996. He scored on his debut against Wimbledon later that season, but even that couldn't prepare the public for the impact he would have over the next 12 months.

With Robbie Fowler injured, the teenager was thrust into Roy Evans' starting XI during the 1997-98 campaign, and he did not disappoint. At the tender age of 18, he finished the season with as many goals to be the Premier League's joint-top scorer - in all competitions, his tally was 23 - and bagged the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Owen stunned defences across the country with his lightning pace and instincts in the penalty area, so much so that Glenn Hoddle included him in the England squad for the 1998 World Cup. Brought along as back-up for Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand, it was in France that he announced himself to the world.

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"Absolute quality, at his peak in the early 00's he was probably the best striker in world football. The hat trick agains't Germany and the goal vs Argentina are the stuff of legends" - Tony | London

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Having scored as a substitute in the group-stage defeat to Romania, Owen started thereafter and led the line against Argentina in the last 16. It was in this clash that the young upstart scored arguably the goal of the tournament, making a fool of Roberto Ayala & Co. before searing the ball home from outside the 18-yard box. The Three Lions went out on penalties, but a new national hero was born.

In many ways, this marked the beginning of the end of the Kop's love affair with Owen. Although he continued to perform brilliantly for his club, the Scouse fans were suspicious of his England exploits. Many wondered if their star striker was merely using Liverpool as a vehicle for his international career. He wasn't helped by the fact his partnership with the much-maligned Emile Heskey forced the legendary Fowler to leave the club.

The peak of Owen's Anfield career came in 2001. Premier League honours still evaded him and the club, but that was all that escaped their grasp that year. The Reds claimed a unique treble, winning the UEFA Cup, League Cup and FA Cup, with Owen grabbing two late goals to down Arsenal in the latter final.

But his trophy count didn't stop there. After helping Liverpool win both the Charity Shield and the UEFA Super Cup - making it an incredible five trophies in a calendar year - Owen was named European Footballer of the Year, becoming the first Red to claim the accolade.

Three years later, Owen quit Anfield. The season prior had been a huge disappointment for the Merseysiders, resulting in Gerard Houllier's sacking and Rafa Benitez's arrival. The manner of the player's departure echoed that of Steve McManaman several years beforehand - opting to leave on a free transfer - and their destination was identical: Real Madrid.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT

Treble-winner with Liverpool
In a forward line dominated by Ronaldo and Raul, the Cheshire-born star found starting opportunities hard to come by at the Bernabeu. Nevertheless, he finished the 2004-05 season with 16 goals in all competitions and had the best goals-to- minutes ratio in the Primera Division.

In the meantime, Michael's international career was going swimmingly. By the time he left Spain, he had 32 England goals to his name, putting him fourth on the Three Lions' all-time scorers list - at just 25 years of age. He has since edged his way up to 40, although it remains to be seen whether he'll receive any more chances to add to that tally.

The truth is, Owen's career has taken a sharp turn for the worse since he joined Newcastle in the summer of 2005. Injuries ravaged his first two seasons on Tyneside - knee ligament damage picked up at the 2006 World Cup saw him play just three games for his club in the 2006-07 campaign. Niggles and illnesses have plagued him ever since, and this year he has looked a shadow of the player who tore up defences for fun with Liverpool.

The 29-year-old has scarcely featured for the national team following Fabio Capello's appointment in December 2007. Perhaps his international career over, and others would say his top-flight footballer are drawing nigh as well (whether he stays at Newcastle or not).

Regardless, Michael Owen remains one of the most frightening and prolific strikers that Liverpool and England have ever produced. He might be a figure of scorn now - on Merseyside, Tyneside and nationwide - but his exploits over the past dozen years cannot be disputed. He has been one of the greatest poachers of his generation.

HONOURS

FA Cup (2001)
Football League Cup (2001, 2003)
FA Community Shield (2001)
UEFA Cup (2001)
European Super Cup (2001)
FA Youth Cup (1996)

Individual

PFA Young Player of the Year (1998)
Premier League Golden Boot (1998, 1999)
BBC Sports Personality of the Year (1998)
Ballon d'Or (2001)
FIFA 100

DID YOU KNOW ... Michael Owen's brother-in-law, Richie Partridge, was on Liverpool's books between 2000 and 2005?

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