Michael Owen to retire from pro soccer
Prolific striker scored 40 goals in 89 matches for England
Former England striker Michael Owen will retire at the end of the Premier League season, concluding the 16-year career of a once-prolific forward that was launched by a World Cup wonder-goal in 1998 but dwindled following a barrage of injuries.
The 33-year-old Owen scored 40 times in 89 England appearances, including a memorable solo goal from the halfway line in a World Cup knockout match against Argentina that announced him on the world stage as a precocious teenager. He is fourth on the country's all-time scorers list behind Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves.
Known for his explosive pace and predatory finishing, he was the European Player of the Year in 2001 and scored 220 club goals during stints at Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle, Manchester United and, most recently, Stoke.
Injuries have taken their toll on his body, however, and he became a shadow of the nippy striker who destroyed defences in his prime.
"I now feel it is the right time to bring the curtain down on my career," Owen said Tuesday on his personal website. "I have been very fortunate in that my career has taken me on a journey that like many young players starting out, I could only have dreamt of."
Aside from that goal against Argentina in Saint-Etienne, Owen will also be remembered at international level for his clinical hat trick in a World Cup qualifier against Germany in Munich in 2001. He is the only Englishman to score in four major tournaments.
"He was a baby-faced assassin," said former England coach Glenn Hoddle, who was in charge during the 1998 World Cup. "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.
"He must have been a nightmare to defend against."
Arguably the highlight of his club career came in the 2001 FA Cup final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, when he scored two late goals for Liverpool in a 2-1 comeback win over a dominant Arsenal. Liverpool went on to complete the FA Cup-League Cup-UEFA Cup treble that season — and Owen became the first Englishman since Kevin Keegan in 1979 to be named Europe's best player.
Owen spent eight successful years at Anfield, scoring 158 goals in 297 games, and remains the youngest player (23 years, 134 days) to reach 100 goals in the Premier League. Yet a hamstring injury sustained in a league match at Leeds in April 1999 set off a string of problems that would affect the rest of his career.
His finishing ability never left him but he lost that raw pace that set him apart from other strikers.
"That injury has probably changed my whole career," Owen said last year. "I've been compromised from the age of 19."
Playing through pain
It didn't stop him scoring 14 goals in 40 games for Madrid, where he settled for being the back-up for Brazil striker Ronaldo after leaving Liverpool following a contract dispute. He fitted seamlessly into the "Galacticos" squad also featuring Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul but returned to England after just one season in Spain, joining Newcastle after failing to secure a move back to Liverpool.
Injuries — especially the serious knee problem sustained against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup when he snapped cruciate ligaments — blighted his stints at Newcastle and Manchester United, although three years at Old Trafford did see him win the Premier League for the first time and score a memorable injury-time winner in a 4-3 derby victory over Manchester City in 2010.
He still had that eye for goal when chances arose, scoring a hat trick in a Champions league match against Wolfsburg, and his build-up play noticeably improved, sometimes playing as a second striker.
Owen has played just seven games for Stoke, which he joined last summer after being released by United, and scored one goal. He hasn't played an entire Premier League match since November 2009 and will finish his career without ever reaching 20 league goals in one season.
"No doubt about it, if I hadn't had as many injuries I would have been the all-time leading scorer for England," Owen said last year.
The English Football Association said it was already in talks with Owen about using his "international experience with our younger players in the future in an ambassadorial role."
Owen is already making a name for himself as a perceptive television pundit and commentator, while he owns a number of racehorses at his home in Cheshire, northern England.
"He will go down as one of the greatest goal scorers that we've had," England midfielder Frank Lampard said Friday. "He deserves very high praise."