Michael Owen : 12th April 1998 the day that marked the potential end of Europe’s greatest striker

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Michael Owen, a boy from Chester, Cheshire was selected as the captain of the Deeside Area Primary School’s Under-11 team at the age of 9. His father who also was a former footballer for Everton spotted his son’s talent.

The boy’s ravishing speed and precision impressed all. At the age of 10, he even broke Welsh Legend, Ian Rush’s 20-year record for the same team by scoring a record-breaking 97 goals in a single season.

At the age of 12, Michael Owen during his secondary schooling, got the eligibility to sign a schoolboy contract for a Premier League club. Premier League Giants like Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal were keen to sign the future star.

Michael Owen
A Young Michael Owen during his early days at Liverpool FC

Bryan Kidd of Manchester United was even more desperate to launch the future english star at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. But later on, Liverpool’s youth development officer, Steve Heighway personally requested him to join Liverpool. This was how, Europe’s greatest striker got into Liverpool’s youth team. In the year 1996, thanks to his brilliance, Liverpool FC, for the first time in their history, won the FA Youth Cup.

Another historic day got added to Liverpool’s Glory. The youngster who had already so many hearts, Michael Owen went on to celebrate his 17th Birthday by signing a Professional contract for Liverpool FC. Liverpool and Deutsche Legend, Karl-Heinz Riedle, in 1997, said that, “It’s unbelievable when you see him play and then someone tells you that he is just 17”.

On January 1997, Michael Owen was rated the, ‘best striker of his age in the country’. On his senior team debut, he opened the scoring for Liverpool at the Selhurst Park against Wimbledon. He replaced the injured Robbie Fowler as Liverpool’s first choice striker in 1997–98.

He won the Premier League Golden Boot and was awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Owen also finished in third place in the PFA Player of the Year voting behind Dennis Bergkamp and Tony Adams.

Micheal Owen celebrates his goal for Liverpool

But when, Liverpool ran out of the title race, famous English daily stormed their columns with a historic statement. They said, “He has become Liverpool’s most precious performer and, quite simply, their saviour.” Later, on the renewal of his contract, He became the highest-paid player in the British football history.

Now in the race of awards, Michael Owen finished as runner-up to Zinedine Zidane in the World Player of the Year award, also finishing in fourth position in the FIFA World Player of the Year and European Player of the Year international awards. But, in the 1998-99 season, 12th April became a heart-wrenching day for football fans, all over the world.

The news of the striker’s hamstring injury against Leeds, spread like forest-fire all across the globe. And, with addition to Liverpool’s misery, the injury ended up the season for their first choice striker.

Almost after 5 months from that day, Michael Owen returned to football but, everything’s got changed. Nothing was same as it was before. His pace which used to be his Unique Selling Proposition was lost somewhere.

Infact, he was only able to complete whole 90 minutes just thrice by October ’99. In January 2000, he once again injured his hamstring and got ruled out for a month. After his return, the Liverpool managed to win a treble but the individual brilliance was never seen was never seen since 1998.

After Liverpool, he also played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, Newcastle United and finally retired from Stoke City in 2013. Though, considered as the Europe’s greatest striker, he himself once said in a later interview that for the last 7 years of his career, everytime he was about to make a run in a match, the memories of the hamstring injury used to stack in his mind.

Dipro Mukherjee
18. Calcutta. Sagittarius. Sports Columnist.

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