Michael Owen will hang up his boots at the end of the season, he announced on Tuesday.
It will forever be remembered as one of the great goals in the history of the World Cup Finals: receiving the ball from David Beckham, the 18-year-old sped past Roberto Ayala and Jose Chamot as if they weren’t there, before sending his 16th minute shot past a stunned Carlos Roa to give England a 2-1 lead against Argentina in Saint Etienne.
He had just completed his first full season in the first team of Liverpool, with his 18 goals earning him the Premier League Golden Boot award, but he was still largely unknown on the continent. Until that night in France. Until that goal. And although Glenn Hoddle’s side would eventually exit the tournament at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, naturally via a penalty shoot-out, it was the moment Michael Owen arrived on the world stage.
Almost 15 years on, the striker, who left Anfield in 2004 and went on to appear for Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and, so far fleetingly, Stoke City, has revealed that he will hang up his boots when his contract expires in the summer.
It is hardly the biggest surprise of the season; in fact, as news breaks that Blackburn Rovers have sacked Michael Appleton after 67 days, it’s not even the biggest surprise of the day.
Owen’s injury problems have been well documented, yet considering how much these have blighted his career, he has still achieved more than most in the game: he won a Premier League and a League Cup whilst at Old Trafford; and an FA Cup, two League Cups, a Uefa Cup and a Uefa Super Cup at Anfield, during which time he was also recognised as the best player in Europe when he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2001.
That goal in Saint Etienne may be the one people remember most, but there are other highlights most players can only dream of: a hat-trick in Munich as England beat Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier; two late goals in Cardiff to help Liverpool come from behind to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final; a dramatic stoppage-time strike in the Manchester derby to edge out City in a seven-goal thriller; a brace against Sunderland to win the Tyne-Wear derby for Newcastle; or how about the final goal as Real beat Barcelona 4-2 in the Bernabeu?
Not bad at all, yet ultimately, he could have achieved so much more.
Owen will hang up his boots having collected 89 caps for England, the last of which came in March 2008, and only Bobby Charlton (49), Gary Lineker (48) and Jimmy Greaves (44) have scored more than his 40 goals. He has appeared in the 1998 and 2002 World Cup Finals, as well as the European Championships of 2000 and 2004. And having netted in all of these, he is the only Englishman to have scored in four major international tournaments. He also appeared at the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany, but an injury in the final group match ruled him out for the remainder of the competition.
Had he been available for that quarter-final clash against Portugal, which ended goalless, would he have made the difference? We’ll never know. Just as we won’t know just what he would have gone on to achieve had he not suffered those injury problems. However, as one of the greatest strikers this country has produced in the current era, it is not unreasonable to suggest had he not spent as much time in the treatment room as he did, Michael Owen would have been the first player to have registered a half-century of goals for England.