Once he ran once, Michael Owen was navigating between pride, frustration, and emotions destined to be in forever struggle.
Take the reason for our meeting here at the bar at the Manor House Stables in the Cheshire countryside. That week twenty years ago, Owen won the Ballon d’Or, the last English player to achieve it, and the first since Kevin Keegan 22 years earlier.
Did he then think that the award would be his first, or did he suspect that it might be his last at this age?
It’s been 20 years since Michael Owen won the Ballon d’Or at the age of 21 at Liverpool
Owen felt he could win the Ballon d’Or again because he scored goals for fun at Liverpool
Owen reflected on his career which was affected after his explosive start with injuries
at 21? Oh, I definitely thought I could win another Ballon d’Or,” he says, believing in his young self of unshakable quality. I still didn’t know that injuries would put me in much danger. But looking back, even back then, I was terrified of running at full speed.
From 10 to 17, I think there has never been anyone in the world that good. At the age of 18, I was scoring goals in the World Cup. By the age of 21, she was awarded the Ballon d’Or. But honestly, I was better at 19. That was when I had a severe injury. It all comes back to it.
Owen traces his hand from behind his right knee to his backside. He was on Elland Road in April 1999 when he ruptured his hamstring while playing for Liverpool.
I wish it was a broken leg. The worst injury for me was a broken hamstring, because at the time you weren’t working, you just let them re-attach. I’ve been running with two hamstrings in my right leg and three in my left for the rest of my career. It was a weak point.
Owen suffered a serious injury at the age of 19 and later had more injuries. Pictured, he was taken while playing for England at the 2006 World Cup
I often wonder if it was just a strange injury. Until then I was solid as a rock, and I didn’t miss a match. Sir Alex Ferguson always says if I had signed for Manchester United as a kid what would have happened, he would have protected me.
But no one gets infected by walking. I was going really fast, and I thought I was always more likely to go.
to stop. “It was a disaster.”
That’s the frustration – and there’s more – but the player voted the best in the world should also indulge in pride. Not that it was as important at the time.
I was in the Stadio Olimpico locker room about to play Roma when Phil Thompson pointed me out. Gerard Houllier (Liverpool coach) was sick but he was on the phone. “It’s top secret,” he said, “but I wanted to give you a boost – I won the Ballon d’Or.”
I was freaking out, but I’ll also be honest, I didn’t quite know what it was. It was not prominent in England. Even when I received the trophy at Anfield, I was like, ‘Keep it off the field, we’re about to go!’
“It was only when I joined Real Madrid and it was all, ‘We signed a Ballon d’Or winner! I was like, “Oh, Jesus, nobody gives me any credit back home.” Now, I look at her with pride.
It is a measure of the achievement that Owen and Zinedine Zidane scored in the top ten in 2001. When Zidane won in 1998, Owen finished fourth between Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Laughs when you know it.
But then, frustration began to scratch its way to the surface, encouraged by the suggestion that he was troubled by his legacy and the perception of him by some.
Owen left Liverpool for Real Madrid at the age of 24 after scoring 158 goals in 297 matches
It’s a fair point. This hell bothers me, difference of opinion. My dad always says, “You say you were rubbish at 28. But you’re still at the top level after all the injuries…Why are you so hard on yourself?”. But I know, on the inside, how good I could have been.
It pains me when I think people remember me from my mid-20s onwards. I had an Owen on my back, but I didn’t have a Michael Owen. I was holding on to dear life. It was the mentality of one of the best players in the world, but my body was letting me down. It was torture.
Owen left Liverpool for Madrid at the age of 24. He scored 158 goals in 297 matches. He will always be torn as to whether it was the right decision, and a few hours in his company offer little to no solution. But it is Al-Haddad’s optimism that enables him to articulate the following argument.
“If I had stayed, I would probably have been sent off at 27. Fernando Torres was better than me at the time. At least Liverpool saw my best ever, rather than being booed and sent elsewhere. That would have been sad .
Owen was still booed at Anfield, when he returned with Newcastle, the club he joined from Madrid. This painful. So did the odd indignity upon his visit as an analyst, which was fueled by his subsequent move to Manchester United.
How is the reception different now, going to Anfield and Old Trafford?
Owen was later booed by Liverpool fans for having played for Newcastle and Manchester United (above)
‘Well, I’m perfectly fine with both. I am respected at Man United. Derby winner, hat-trick in the Champions League, a goal in the cup final. It’s not like I’m one of them, we know that, but there is mutual respect and good memories.
“But when I cross the doors in Liverpool it’s in my heart. I hated coming back as a player. I felt like I was punching my brother. I was booed, I felt sick. My parents were shot.
It seldom happens now, the strange voice might yell, “You’re a mank,” but I can put it in a box. It doesn’t stop me from thinking that I’d like to have the legacy of Cara (Jimmy Carragher) or Steven (Stephen Gerrard).
They won the Champions League the season I left. I wanted my teammates to win, totally, but a part of me was blushing, “Oh my God, I could have been.” I must accept it. It was my decision to leave.
Had it not been for the move, though, he would not have scored against Barcelona in El Clasico’s 4-2 victory. The memory was not lost on Owen.
I was not bothered playing with the likes of Zidane. But this time, it hit me. I was with my family in the players’ hall and the names of the scorers appeared on the big screen: Eto’o. Ronaldinho. Zidane. Ronaldo. Raoul. Owen. My dad and I looked at him… “Fuck the hell.” In that moment, I felt that everything was fine.
Michael Owen has fond memories of scoring for Real Madrid against Barcelona in El Clasico
There is hesitation for a moment. I just asked Owen if he wants England to win the Euro this summer. Wants to give an honest answer.
“I’m definitely a fan of England,” the Golden Generation Golden Boy begins. And I wanted to win, yeah.
But something is different when you are an ex-player. It’s not jealousy, I’m very proud of this team. The boys seem to really like each other.
“But if they had won, I know one of my feelings would be, ‘Jesus, none of those guys would have been to our squad.'”
Is Harry Kane better than Rooney? I wouldn’t say no. Ashley Cole was the best left-back in the world, our midfield was amazing, our current midfielders are not close to Gerrard, (Frank) Lampard and (Paul) Scholes. So, yeah, that would have made me depressed just thinking, ‘How the hell did we not win anything?’.
okay then. Why didn’t you?
I can give you two reasons. First, our team spirit wasn’t what it is now. We loved each other, but we also hated each other every two weeks. We couldn’t get past this rivalry.
Owen thinks he would have broken the record set in England had it not been for Fabio Capello
He also believes that England could have won the 2002 World Cup under former coach Glenn Hoddle
Second, the director. Had Glenn Hoddle still in charge in 2002 (not Sven-Goran Eriksson) we would have won the World Cup.
We played 4-4-2. You’re watching videos now and we’ve been a long football team. We couldn’t even get the ball to Stevie and Lamps. Bex was clipping them over the top. However, we had the best players on Earth.
“Glenn would have gone 3-5-2 and we were going to win trophies. We had a lot of great midfield so playing three was perfect. We’ve never had a left player so why try to play Scholes there? Come on. Just let Ashley Cole take care of the left. Glenn was right. It was the best we had.
Isn’t it Fabio Capello? Owen discovers irony. The Italian player is set on the striker’s 28th birthday. Not long after, he scored twice in the 3-0 win over Russia and was nine times shy of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.
I have been fond of breaking this record from a young age, and I still think I would have done it, had it not been for Capello. You’re a downfall man. He dressed me once and the press then asked me for his instructions. “nothing”. She made headlines, and she did.
During England’s 10-0 win over San Marino last month – in which Kane scored four goals – Owen tweeted that he didn’t like international football and that too many matches were “absolutely useless”. But here is a confession.
I was just jealous that I didn’t play against San Marino! I actually looked at my scoring record – Brazil, Argentina, Germany – and was checking it against Harry and thinking, “The pens against San Marino shouldn’t count!”.
Owen said he was jealous of Harry Kane joking that penalties against San Marino shouldn’t count
“I just want to calm down and say to myself, ‘You’re 42, you’re not going to play again, let it go.’ But I still compete with the world. I want to relax, but I can’t.”
Frustration, you see. It comes from driving to be the best. There are 100 horses out there tied to different owners – “I feel pressure when Sir Alex runs” – and Owen won’t rest until that number is 200 and includes a classic winner.
He has spoken with great enthusiasm about his specialty – “My football career is in reverse, I was a prodigy at first and now I get more and more praise” – and wants to do more of the touchscreen analysis he’s been leading in the Premier League. foreign broadcasts. “I love it, it’s about showing the ‘why’ to the viewer, not the ‘what’.
Exposure to technology also broadened his horizons at home. Owen is famous for saying that he has seen fewer than 10 films in his life. Will that change at Christmas this year?
‘No way! But I just discovered Netflix and iPlayer. I’m sick of people asking if you’ve seen some documentaries about football and they say, “No, I forgot to record it!”. So, my four kids gave me a lesson as I worked my way through — Fergie, awesome. Jack Charlton. I’ll watch Sunderland until I die over Christmas. I love him.
They might even make a documentary about Owen, if, in another 20 years, he remains the last Ballon d’Or winner in this country. But as his father said, you wish by then the pride had overcome the frustration.