By The Guardian
The Football Association issued one of many tributes to Michael Owen, the former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and current Stoke City striker who announced he will be retiring at the end of the season, and revealed it has opened talks with him on a future ambassadorial role.
Owen scored a remarkable 40 goals in 89 appearances for England, announcing himself on the global stage against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup and scoring a hat-trick in the 5-1 demolition of Germany in Munich in September 2001. He stands fourth in the all-time England goalscorers’ list behind Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves.
Glenn Hoddle, who handed Owen his international debut as an 18-year-old against Chile in February 1998, said: “He is in the top four of our greatest ever finishers, along with Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer. Some might say he is at the top of that list. He was a baby-faced assassin. His finishing was amazing for a young man. He had that coolness in the penalty box. Some players get anxious but he seemed to get calmer and calmer.”
Hoddle also captured the sense of regret that injury deprived Owen, who once admitted: “I feel I played too much, too soon,” of a longer period at the peak of his game. “When you have that blistering pace you do have hamstring problems,” the former England manager said. “It is a shame, really, that he didn’t go on and eclipse a load of records.”
Another former England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, commented: “First of all he’s a fantastic man and professional. You never had any problems with Michael Owen, on the pitch or off the pitch. He was always professional in his way, and you knew if you had him in your team he’s a danger and he can score the winning goal. The only problem with Michael Owen was his injuries and it’s been going on for a long, long time. He’s been unlucky because he couldn’t work as hard as he wanted and he missed too many games. That’s a pity for him, a pity for England, a pity for the clubs he played for and the pity for football.”
Yet despite the injuries Owen has scored 260 goals in 564 games for clubs and country. He exploded on to the scene as a 17-year-old with Liverpool, scoring on his debut against Wimbledon in May 1997 and ending his first full season as the leading goalscorer in the Premier League and as the PFA’s Young Player of the Year. He became the first Englishman since Kevin Keegan in 1979 to be named European Footballer of the Year, having helped Gérard Houllier’s team to a Uefa, FA and League Cup treble in 2001, a feat that also made Owen the first, and only, English winner of the World Player of the Year award.
Houllier said: “He scored practically one goal every two games for the national team and the same for Liverpool. As a manager, I was blessed to have him in my team.”
Relations soured with Liverpool when he stalled over a new contract before joining Real Madrid for £8m shortly after Rafael Benítez replaced Houllier as manager and with 12 months remaining on his Anfield deal. He was employed mostly as a substitute at the Bernabéu behind Raúl and Ronaldo, but still scored 14 goals for the Spanish giants. It was the decision to return to the Premier League with Newcastle United after just one season in Spain, and to protect his England place ahead of the 2006 World Cup, that marked the downturn in Owen’s fortunes. Newcastle’s club-record £16.8m signing broke a metatarsal during his debut season on Tyneside and then ruptured a cruciate ligament against Sweden at the World Cup.
He left Newcastle at the end of a lucrative four-year contract and a season that ended with the club relegated to the Championship. Joining Manchester United on a free transfer, Owen then made only six league starts in three years at Old Trafford, though his appearance record earned a Premier League winner’s medal in 2010-11 and another for the League Cup triumph in 2010. He last started a Premier League game in October 2010.
Owen said: “I now feel it is the right time to bring the curtain down on my career. I have been very fortunate in that my career has taken me on a journey that like many young players starting out, I could only have dreamt of.”
Having thanked “managers, coaches, fellow players, back room staff, the supporters and my own personal sponsors” for their support, Owen added: “Most of all though, I would like to thank my family. To my beautiful wife Louise, for her continued love and support through the many ups and downs in my career and for affording me the most precious gift of all, our children.
“To my mum who has always taken the brunt of my frustrations yet continues to keep our family so tight-knit, a trait that has formed the foundations of my own success. Her dedication to me and my brothers and sisters is immeasurable. I’d like to thank Terry, Andy, Karen and Lesley for being so understanding and creating the perfect environment to grow up in. Last but not least, my dad. We did it my old mate! From those freezing local parks to terrorising the best defenders in the world on the biggest stages of all. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Owen later tweeted he had been moved to tears by the tributes that followed news of his impending retirement.
Adrian Bevington, Club England’s managing director, said: “We are already in talks with Michael about how he can share his international experience with our younger players in the future in an ambassadorial role.”
Lineker said Owen was “unquestionably one of the best strikers in world football at his peak” and “one of the greatest strikers who has ever put on an England shirt”. He added: “We could do with someone like that now, a natural goalscorer.”