In May 1997 Michael Owen makes his debut for Liverpool. He finished the following season as the joint top scorer in the Premier League. Bundled onto a plane for France ’98 he scored that goal against Argentina in Saint-Étienne.
Player of Year, Sports Personality of the Year, and later European footballer of the year. Incidentally he was the only player at France ‘98 with a squad number more numerically advanced than his age.
He went on to play for Real Madrid, Newcastle, Manchester United (and Stoke) and scored a sensational hat trick as England defeated Germany 5-1 in Munich. On the face of it it's been an illustrious career.
Even at clubs where he supposedly didn’t have the best time of time he still boasted an impressive goals-to-minute ratio. As magical as his feet were, his hamstrings were pretty dodgy.
As an England fan, the boy was sensational. The man was crocked. You can’t quite help wondering what might have been
Also, as an England fan Michael Owen represents what has become a worrying trend of English teenager breaking through and threatening to rule the world before petering out and leaving you with a feeling that potential outweighed the achievement.
After being left out of the starting lineup against Real Madrid people have looked long and hard at Wayne Rooney’s record, and at a time when he should be coming into his peak you can’t help but feel he hasn’t quite done himself justice.
A quick look down the youngest players to earn caps for England makes for some worrying reading.
Theo Walcott, despite earning himself a bumper new contract this season, continues to only show his worth in drips and drabs, Aaron Lennon similarly. Joe Cole was loaned out to Lille before being offered back to West Ham. He was supposed to be the next Gascoigne—another for the list. Lee Sharpe started the trend, leaving the only player from the modern era who really looks like he done himself proud from the list to be Rio Ferdinand.
Do the press make them out to be better than they really are? Do the publicity and early success turn their heads? Is there no real trend but just a series of unfortunate events?
Maybe a little bit of everything. It’s not just English players, a look back at any "best teenagers in the world" lists from five years ago or more will leave you scratching your head trying to remember where they’ve gone. It just seems to happen to us more often.
As Owen waves good-bye to professional football at the end of this season there is a warning for the likes of Jack Wilshire, Wilfred Zaha and Raheem Stirling. Natural talent only gets you so far. You need the attitude, work rate and the luck to make the most out of your potential.
However, if you score a hat trick against Germany you will always be fondly remember no matter what else happens in your career. Just ask Michael Owen and Sir Geoff Hurst.