Owen was the master of his art with ice in his veins

I have a say

Posted Wednesday, March 20, 2013 by Dailymail

Less than 12 hours before Michael Owen announced his retirement, he was being discussed in a  Manchester hotel bar by a BBC sports presenter.

‘When Michael first did some work for us, we wondered just what he would be like,’ said the BBC man.

‘The last thing we needed was another dreary, bland footballer telling us nothing at all. But he came in and was brilliant and surprised a lot of people. He seemed to instinctively know what to say and how to say it.’

Owen was the master of his art with ice in his veins
Quick learner: Michael Owen quickly rose to football's top level

Nobody should really have been surprised. Michael Owen was always a very quick learner.

Think of Owen and you automatically think of the early days; days when scoring goals seemed to come as easily to him as placing one foot in front of the other.

A goal as a 17-year-old against Wimbledon on his debut for Liverpool in May 1997 was to become rather typical of him. A poor Selhurst Park pitch and the gloom of a dismal Liverpool performance didn’t seem to trouble him that night as he scampered away and scored with his right foot. To Owen, outside influences were rarely, if ever, a factor.

A little over a year later and the shirt on his back was an England one. Again the stakes, this time against Argentina, were high. An early break ended with Owen, 18 by now, driving the ball high into the corner of the goal between post and crossbar. The subsequent, rather iconic, celebration appeared to indicate that he always knew exactly where he was going to put his shot.

Recently, Owen has been lampooned a little. The injuries — and his obdurate denial of many of them — have certainly smudged his legacy slightly while a TV game show appearance last year during which he revealed an inability to make a cup of tea provided an insight into a slightly peculiar mind.

Owen was the master of his art with ice in his veins
Retirement: Owen is to hang up his boots at the end of the season

It is this tunnel vision, though, extreme even by the standards of sportsmen,  that helped make Owen the supreme goalscorer that he was for a decade.

Owen has admitted to an almost complete absence of emotion, on and off the field. His mind simply doesn’t have that setting. For a goalscorer, though, such a peculiarity becomes a quality. An ability not to over-complicate, not to become befuddled by surges of adrenaline and excitement, is a part of the art in front of goal. With the ball at his feet and a goalkeeper in his eyeline, the ice in Owen’s veins always helped.

His gala moments will always stay in the memory. Contributions for England against Argentina in St Etienne, and Germany in Munich, will ensure him his place in the pantheon while two late goals to win an FA Cup final for Liverpool  in 2001 and an injury-time winner for  Manchester United against rivals City in 2009 illustrate an innate sense of timing and, at times, pure theatre.

There was, however, much more.

Owen was the master of his art with ice in his veins
Big-game player: Owen scored vital goals to win Liverpool the 2001 FA Cup

Hat-tricks for Liverpool, at Newcastle in 1998 and Sheffield Wednesday in the same year, were consummately constructed as, indeed, was one for United in the Champions League at Wolfsburg three-and-a-half years ago. That one, it should be noted, was rewarded with a place among the substitutes for United’s next game in the Barclays Premier League.

Owen’s international career — 40 goals from 89 games — also contains more than the stand-out moments mentioned above. He remains, for example, the last man to put England ahead in a World Cup quarter-final, against Brazil in Japan in 2002. It could be a long wait for the next one.

Owen has always been at a loss to understand how others found goalscoring so complicated. That was, in part, the beauty of him.

After scoring an equaliser against world champions France in Paris in September 2000, Owen told the English media he wished to carry the responsibility for international goals for the next 10 years or more. Those present, though struck by his remarkable confidence, had little doubt that he would.

Owen was the master of his art with ice in his veins
Regular goalscorer: Owen was one of England's best ever strikers

For some time it appeared so, too. His Liverpool years — between 1996 and 2004 — brought him more than a goal every other league game, while contributions at the 2002 World Cup and the two European Championships that sandwiched it left him as the only Englishman to have scored in four major tournaments.

Perhaps the slight sadness today, though, is that Owen prepares to finish having only had half a career, certainly in terms of games played. Injuries have restricted him to 360 league appearances and precious few of those have come since he left Newcastle in the summer of 2009.

At six years his junior, Wayne Rooney is only 20 or so games behind, for example. Certainly we saw the best of Owen but we didn’t see nearly enough of him.

In recent years it has been muscle issues — the curse of the sprinter — that have hamstrung Owen. Certainly the last two years have seen him struggle even to train consistently. Perhaps, though, it is the knee-ligament injury suffered against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup that nudged him firmly on to the down side of the parabola. Those who were in Cologne that June night seven years ago, whether they knew it or not, witnessed a mortal blow from which it could be argued our national team have not recovered.

Owen was the master of his art with ice in his veins
Heartbreaking: The injury from which Owen struggled to truly recover

In person, Owen could be sensitive to criticism and could bristle easily. In Liverpool they have never forgiven him for leaving for Real Madrid and, five years later, pitching up at Old Trafford. That his formative club won the Champions League without him in Istanbul in 2005 will always be a stick with which many on Merseyside will look to beat him.

Owen, though, doesn’t see life that way. He has an equanimity that will serve him well in retirement, a selflessness witnessed by young players such as Javier Hernandez at United that will enable him to watch football in years to come without bitterness.

Privately, Owen was a warmer man than he often appeared. After learning the nature of his injury in Cologne back in 2006, his first thought was to text Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder to apologise for messing up his plans for the next domestic season.

When asked once what it was like to be a reserve at United, he replied: ‘It gives me the chance to watch Wayne Rooney.’

Owen lived to score goals. It didn’t really matter who they were for.

Over the last 20 years there have been few better.



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