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Owen relives the bad calls that devalued stunning early years


Michael Owen: 'There was a time when the whole of English football was in his extremely fast-moving shadow'. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images for Premier League

Michael Owen: 'There was a time when the whole of English football was in his extremely fast-moving shadow'. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images for Premier League

Getty Images for Premier League

Michael Owen: 'There was a time when the whole of English football was in his extremely fast-moving shadow'. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images for Premier League

Chances are that Craxton Wood Hotel and Spa in Ledsham will have had few evenings to match tonight when Michael Owen launches his autobiography in person, in what we can safely say will be today's main event in the west Cheshire area.

The build-up - the monumental Owen-Alan Shearer Twitter row - has claimed some unexpected victims along the way.

Spare a thought for former England captain Alastair Cook, who also happened to be doing his own book-boosting Craxton Wood gig last night but may already be reflecting ruefully on his decision to go easy on Kevin Pietersen.

Say what you like about England's great star of the late 1990s, but Owen has at least got people interested. A personal view is that, rather than PR blandishments, former England greats telling us how much they dislike one another is what we want to hear, the only pity being that it has taken this long to come out.

Imagine having to wait another 10 years to find out that, say, John Stones and Eric Dier almost came to blows over a disagreement on the merits of the 'Madagascar' franchise going to a fourth movie.

Endorsement As for Owen himself, book serialisation week has clearly been difficult. There has been little love post-retirement for his punditry, partly because this is a player without a base - no club claim him as their own - and partly because of the punditry.

He does not fight shy of an endorsement on his Twitter feed - from the betting partner, to the law firm that specialises in hairdressing negligence claims, to the VIP horse racing club, to the Chinese AI football boots. How did it come to this? There was a time when the whole of English football was in his extremely fast-moving shadow. By the time he was the age that Jadon Sancho is now, 19 years, and five months, Owen had 47 goals for Liverpool and four goals in 13 caps for England, including the one against Argentina in the World Cup. Within two years he would win the Ballon d'Or, presented to him pitchside at Anfield before a game with so little fanfare you might have thought it was an end-of-season award from a distant supporters' club branch.

He won it that year just ahead of Raul at Real Madrid, two years older than Owen, and a more prolific goalscorer but not possessed of the Englishman's pace, which was mesmerising in those years.

Raul never got close again to that award but he saw off Owen at Real Madrid and remained a top-level striker long after injuries and bad moves had claimed that status from the Englishman.

The key moments? One might pinpoint Owen's cruciate ligament injury in the 2006 World Cup finals game against Sweden. To explain that you have to go back to the metatarsal fracture on the preceding New Year's Eve of 2005 and the ill-advised stampede to get fit in time for the summer, the like of which was such a feature of the Sven-Goran Eriksson years.

That said, all players get injured, and the peak years also come early for others, as they did with Owen, a schoolboy goal-machine and a 17-year-old Premier League debutant during which, naturally, he scored with the simple finish that was his trademark.

Football, and goals, came easy to him. He scored 164 of his 222 senior club goals, and 28 of his 40 for England, before he was 25. The injuries were one thing and the other was the decisions he made, those big calls that can change a life.

He is right about Newcastle United: he should never have gone there. His status in 2005 was far beyond what the club could offer him. He agreed because one year earlier he was panicked into a move to Real, having been outshone that summer by Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004, as he has himself conceded.

Milan Baros had been the tournament's top goalscorer and for all his modest capabilities, his arrival at Liverpool seemed to unsettle Owen.

The Real move was a way of reasserting his status even if it felt, from Real's point of view, like a late-summer afterthought. The window had been dominated by Chelsea's pursuit of Steven Gerrard, who would come close to leaving Liverpool that summer and the next, but stayed. Those moments when he wavered have been forgotten, swept away by what followed. Owen, meanwhile, has largely been erased from Anfield history. He left for Real and from then on seems to have spent his life trying to find his way back to a career that has always eluded him.

In his early days he was one of the generation signed to the then-dominant English agent Tony Stephens whose careers felt scripted to the last detail - their interviews, their endorsements, even their personas. Yet Owen's two big transfers, in 2004 and the following summer, were impulsive and ill-conceived. He never recovered. On his last day as a professional in 2013, Owen played 16 minutes as a sub for Stoke City in a draw at Southampton. It sticks in the memory because that day his friend Jamie Carragher finished his career at Anfield with the kind of send-off every pro dreams of.

"We all take the mickey out of him," Owen wrote of Carragher in his first autobiography, published in 2004, "calling him the stereotypical club pro, Mr Dependable."

Back then there was no question who was the big star and it would have been inconceivable to the 25-year-old Owen that his career would end the way it did. He has said since then that he fell out of love with the game. Although, given the choices that he made, it is not hard to see why.