Former England football star Michael Owen has spoken to Stan Collymore about his experience at the 1998 World Cup in France, including the “life-changing” wonder goal that propelled him to global stardom.
Owen was speaking to fellow former Liverpool and England striker Stan Collymore, for the latter’s eponymous show. The former teammates sat down at Owen’s Manor House Stables in Cheshire, England, where the retired striker now spends much of his time.
The pair discussed Owen’s memories of bursting onto the scene as a teenager, as well as the famous goal he scored as an 18-year-old against Argentina at France 98.
Owen’s ascent from youth team football to the professional ranks was rapid, and a breakthrough season in 1997-1998 saw him end up as the English Premier League’s top scorer and also make his England debut.
“I felt [playing for England] was an inevitable step,” Owen said.
“I didn’t even think about ‘can I do it,’ you think about doing it.When I was making my debut, there was such a good feeling about the England team… We were coming off the back of a brilliant Euro 96, football was buzzing, we had a good England team.To get in the England team was huge, was everything. To get my first call-up and first cap was a huge honor, I felt such pride.”
As the youngest England player of the 20th century, Owen said playing alongside the likes of the iconic Paul Gascoigne and other England stars was initially a surreal experience.
“In and around the senior pros, I was still a bit in awe of them and respectful of them, and I didn’t want to do anything that they could think, ‘he’s getting above his station,” Owen recalled.
Owen was named by manager Glenn Hoddle in the England squad to travel to the World Cup in France, and duly made the headlines when he scored in the second group stage game against Romania, a match which England ultimately lost 2-1. The Three Lions progressed to the knock-out phase, however, and the stage was set for the youngster to score one of the most memorable goals in World Cup history against Argentina.
“At the time I just thought it was another game. If you’d asked me to name five players in the Argentina team, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Owen said.
“I just had this view going into games that… I was faster than anything… I always score goals, so I will score, just unleash me… I was a ball of excitement, I had no fear at all. I had no idea about Argentina, I probably went into the game as underprepared as anyone in terms of knowing who I’m playing against, but I was just fearless, totally confident in my ability.”
Owen recalled the moment in the first half against Argentina in Saint-Etienne when he picked up the ball up around the half-way line and burst forward, using his pace to beat two defenders before putting the ball past the Argentine ‘keeper to give England a 2-1 lead.
“When I first touched the ball, Beckham had played the ball to me around the halfway line, I had no idea how deep [Argentina defender Roberto] Ayala was, I just had a defender right next to me, I and just thought, ‘if can take just take in my stride, then I’m away from him.’
“I managed to take a good touch with my right foot and wriggle free of him, and then I looked up, and I can remember thinking, ‘there’s only one player to beat and look how deep he is.’
“I just set off running and took it to the side, I saw [England player Paul] Scholes to my side, but I thought, ‘no way am I going to give it to him.’
“At that point I scored and as I was running away I thought, ‘that was a good goal,’” Owen said.
“I remember being on the halfway line after everyone had jumped on me, and I lifted my head, and punched the air and looked at the crowd and the first people I saw in the crowd out of 30-odd thousand people were my mum and dad.”
England famously went on to lose the game on penalties after Javier Zanetti leveled for Argentine on the stroke of half-time, and having to play much of the game with 10 men after David Beckham was sent off for an off-the-ball kick on Argentine player Diego Simeone early in the second half.
Despite the defeat and the scandal surrounding the Beckham red card, much of the focus was on Owen’s wonder goal.
“After the game we got to see out families, and I think my mum or dad said, ‘your life might have changed.’
“It was probably the biggest life-changing moment in my life.”
After his World Cup heroics Owen went on to have a memorable career that saw him play at Spanish giants Real Madrid, before returning to England for spells at Newcastle and Manchester United. He made 89 appearances for England, scoring 40 goals.
Among many achievements in a storied career, Owen will always be remembered for that night in France, when as a teenage star he electrified the footballing world.