Michael Owen’s post-playing career has somewhat harmed his reputation.
Painfully obvious analysis, dull commentary and inexplicable tweeting has made him something of a punchline in some circles.
But let’s not forget that he was a phenomenal player in his prime.
Owen is one of only four English players to ever win the Ballon d’Or.
Let’s look back at the 2000/01 season and revisit just why he was selected over the likes of Raul, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Rivaldo for European football’s top individual award.
Owen was Liverpool’s top scorer in the Premier League as Gerard Houllier’s men finished third behind Man United and Arsenal.
Still just 21-years-old at the time, he bagged 16 goals including hat-tricks against Aston Villa and Newcastle.
It was a respectable campaign for Owen and Liverpool but their focus was elsewhere…
Liverpool won both the FA Cup and the League Cup in 2001.
The FA Cup final from that year is often referred to as the ‘Owen final’ after the boy wonder came off the bench to score two late goals against Arsenal.
His first was a typically predatory strike as he reacted first when at a goalmouth scramble.
His second was an expert finish after a hopeful long ball over the top — followed by an appropriately iconic celebration in which he looked both disbelieving and immensely proud.
Robbie Fowler did most the work in the League Cup but Owen still bagged an important goal in extra time against Fulham in the fifth round.
Owen was Liverpool’s equal top scorer in Europe (shout out Nicky Barmby every time) as they lifted the UEFA Cup to complete a hat-trick of major trophies.
Just after the turn of the century, Owen was at his clinical best and would punish any defensive error given even a quarter-chance.
That’s exactly what he did away at Roma in the fourth round — latching onto a misplaced pass across the backline seconds after the restart.
Midway through the second half he headed a Gary McAllister cross home at the near post which proved to be the tie’s decisive goal.
He followed that with a crucial strike against Porto at Anfield in the quarter-finals to cement his status as one of Europe’s most natural finishers.
It wasn’t just at club level Owen was making waves.
In 2001 he scored six goals in eight games for England including a historic hat-trick in Munich as the Three Lions beat long-time rivals Germany 5-1.
Owen’s goal propelled his country to qualify for the 2002 World Cup and soon after he was handed the armband for a friendly against Paraguay which made him the youngest England captain since Bobby Moore.
The results (and the caveat)
24 goals for Liverpool and six for England took his season tally to 31 — a magnificent achievement for a 21-year-old playing in Europe’s most competitive league.
He became the first Liverpool player to win the Ballon d’Or on 18 December 2001, edging out Real Madrid and Spain hotshot Raul.
Of course, back in 2001 the Ballon d’Or was contested among those who played their football in Europe alone.
The World Player of the Year award was the top individual prize in the game and in 2001 Luis Figo was the man who took the crown.
Still, Owen’s phenomenal season was worthy of the Ballon d’Or and it ultmately earned him a move to Real Madrid.
Injuries meant his peak didn’t last as long as he would have hoped but his finishing and instincts in the box were of the highest standard.
Remember 2001 Owen, not this one…
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