Hoddle salutes 'cool assassin' Owen
Former England boss Glenn Hoddle hailed the career of "baby-faced assassin" Michael Owen and claimed he could go down as England's finest finisher.
Owen confirmed on Tuesday that he would be retiring at the end of the season after Stoke opted not to extend his contract. Ultimately, Owen will be remembered as much for the injuries that have blighted the latter part of his career as the brilliance that characterised the start of it.
However, Hoddle, who gave him his international debut in 1998 ahead of that brilliant World Cup goal against Argentina, feels Owen deserves a place amongst the very best, and told Sky Sports News: "He is in the top four of our greatest ever finishers, along with Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer. Some might say he is at the top of that list."
He added: "He was a baby-faced assassin. His finishing was amazing for a young man. He had that coolness in the penalty box. Some players get anxious but he seemed to get calmer and calmer. Michael also had that wonderful intelligence to make the right movement to stay onside. He must have been a nightmare to defend against."
The first English player to win the European Footballer of the Year award since Kevin Keegan when he scooped the prize in 2001, Owen could hardly have made a more dramatic introduction to life on the international scene, slaloming through the Argentina defence before scoring one of the most memorable England goals.
And, although he also netted a memorable hat-trick in that 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, former Three Lions team-mate Frank Lampard believes it will be the goal against Argentina for which Owen will always be remembered.
"The hat-trick in Munich was fantastic," said Lampard. "He was at the top of his game at the time, but to come on at the age he did and score a goal of such eye-catching quality was amazing. I was a fan at that stage, watching the game in a bar. I wouldn't have had the confidence to run past five Argentinian defenders at that age. It is one of the moments that sticks in my mind about England not just Michael Owen."
Owen's heroics in Munich run a close second, though, followed by his exploits at club level, where he scored in UEFA and FA Cup finals for Liverpool in their 2001 Treble-winning campaign. A decade after that came his first Premier League title, for Manchester United, for whom he also scored a memorable goal against Manchester City.
"He's always been a fantastic football player," said former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson. "He's a danger all the time.
"You never had any problems with Michael Owen, on or off the pitch. He was always professional and you knew if you had him in your team he could score the winning goal. He's one of those players out there who can win the game for you, as he did so many times in his career."