Michael Owen ruined my childhood dream

Posted by Mark Payne

Michael Owen is six months older than I, but we would have been in the same year at school and under different circumstances might even have been in the same class. They announced his age when he played against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park on his debut for Liverpool and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember watching the BBC highlights that night and being amazed at the speed of the latest Anfield wunderkind. One year later, he ruined my childhood dream.

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Every young man who grows up kicking a ball around the streets in England dreams of one day playing football for their boyhood club, then pulling on the Three Lions of the national team. The problem I have with Owen is that he did just that, and he happened to be my age. By doing so, he hammered home that it was never going to happen for me. I never thought I would forgive him.

When the 33-year-old announced on Tuesday that he would be retiring from football a stream of tributes flowed in. But let's be honest, he has rubbed quite a few people up the wrong way, not least Liverpool fans. His boyhood club had more than one opportunity to re-sign him over the years and didn't take it. Owen has promised on Twitter to reveal what happened when he returned from Real Madrid in Spain and went to Newcastle rather than Anfield. The accepted wisdom is that Newcastle offered more money and Liverpool shunned him. It seems there is more to the story.

Arguments that he has underachieved are wide of the mark. There is absolutely no arguing with Owen's trophy haul. He won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup with Liverpool in 2001. A treble of sorts. At Manchester United he scored in a League Cup final as the Red Devils lifted the cup and finally won the Premier League in 2011, something Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have never managed.

As an individual he has also reached the top bracket. He was named European Footballer of the Year in 2001, an accolade very few Englishmen have received. He has scored three Champions' League hat-tricks, only Lionel Messi, Filippo Inzaghi and Mario Gomez have also achieved this. His forty goals for England put him behind only Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves in the leading goalscorer charts.

Even if football fans have forgotten how to appreciate him, fellow professionals have not. "All I can say is that he's a match winner. Many games sometimes we were one-nil down and he would have this spark to overturn the game" said ex-Liverpool manager Gerrard Houllier. Former opponent and team-mate Shay Given added on twitter: "I'll be 1 of many GKs that will be happy to see the back of u on a football pitch."

Manchester United fans were hardly enthralled when Sir Alex Ferguson announced the acquisition of the former Liverpool man in July 2009. In hindsight, even the Scot would admit that giving Owen the iconic number seven shirt was a step too far. But Owen did illuminate one game in a fashion that fused his ruthless goal scoring with a pure Manchester United moment.

Only two months after he signed, with the clock ticking down on the most important Manchester derby for decades the ball fell to Owen in the corner of the box. His clean finish into the corner of the net brought the city to its knees.

Owen may have played for Liverpool and may not be the most popular former pro doing the rounds. But he gave United that winner in sixth minute of injury time at Old Trafford in a thrilling 4-3 victory. And I forgive him for ruining my dream.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

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