YOU know when you’ve witnessed something special and I leapt to my feet in the commentary box when Michael Owen announced himself to the rest of the world with that goal against Argentina in 1998.
It was just amazing. Owen didn’t mess about in the channels; he wanted to use his extraordinary pace to embarrass defenders, and that’s exactly what he did that June night in St Etienne.
An excellent first touch with the outside of the boot, searing acceleration to leave both Jose Chamot and Roberto Ayala for dead, his feet moving so fast, and finally a calm finish into the top corner.
For someone so young to make such an impact in a World Cup last-16 match was scarcely believable and demonstrated exactly what he could do. He had risen to the top so quickly and that was the icing on the cake.
The goal also illustrated just what his game was about: sharpness, anticipation, great self-belief and maturity. He was less muscular than Gary Lineker but had that same cool head in front of goal. He went on to score 40 goals for his country – eight fewer than Lineker, though Owen was right up there and, I believe, would have broken Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 but for increasingly disruptive injuries.
Even during his most prolific years at Liverpool he would suffer hamstring problems when in superb form, and they were precisely the type of injuries that eroded his effectiveness the most.
Owen loves horse racing and in some ways the strains he suffered were similar to those of the thoroughbreds he now owns and pits his charges against.
After his spell at Real Madrid he seemed to be affected by a plague of injuries. Even once he lost the pace he still had the anticipation, but, as for many ex-footballers, the body wouldn’t do what the mind wanted.
Owen, I’m sure, will say he had a wonderful career, despite frustration at recent seasons. He may look back at times and wish he won a Premier League title with Liverpool but can be proud of the clubs he played for and that he spent all of his 17 years at the top level.
His career might have fizzled out in the last four or five years, but he should be remembered for his cup final performances for Liverpool and his exploits in an England shirt.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships.
OWEN CALLS TIME ON ILLUSTRIOUS CAREER
Michael Owen has scored 150 Premier League goals and netted 40 times for England. He will retire in May after a career spanning 17 seasons and some incredible highlights:
England v Argentina, 1998
■ The 18-year-old striker was an unused substitute in England’s first two matches at World Cup ‘98. Owen came off the bench in the final group match against Romania and scored. He then started against Argentina in the second round and scored a sensational individual goal, bursting past challenges from defenders Roberto Ayala and Jose Chamot before firing into the top corner
Newcastle v Liverpool, 1998
■ Fresh from his starring role at the World Cup in France, Owen bagged a hat-trick in 15 minutes at St James Park, the final goal being a sumptuous chip over goalkeeper Shay Given
Liverpool v Arsenal, 2001
■ Arsenal led 1-0 in the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium after Freddie Ljungberg’s goal. But Owen scored twice in the final seven minutes to help Liverpool clinch the trophy
Germany v England, 2001
■ Under manager Sven-Goran Eriksson England recorded one of their most impressive away victories of all time, winning 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier where Owen hit a hat-trick
Real Madrid v Barcelona, 2005
■ Owen endeared himself to Real fans scoring one of 14 goals in his only season in Spain in El Clasico. He latched onto a long pass from midfielder David Beckham and fired Real 4-1 ahead at the Bernabeu