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Michael Owen: The Biography by Oliver Derbyshire

Release date: 20th April, 2007
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £11.87
You Save: £6.12 (34%)
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Imagine, at the age of 18, being able to undertake one thing that takes around twenty seconds to complete successfully and which, as a result, provides you and your family with financial security for life. Michael Owen managed to do just that, a point Oliver Derbyshire acknowledges succinctly early on in his biography: "Michael Owen went into the 1998 World Cup as an enthusiastic and incredibly talented eighteen-year-old but he left the tournament as a national hero and a household nameÖ"

If a life can have just one defining moment, a clearly identifiable point at which absolutely everything changes, the night of 30 June 1998 in St Etienne was it for young Michael when he scored one of the most amazing goals your reviewer has ever seen. As he progressed at pace, ball at feet, from the half way line, viewers instinctively drew closer to the television screen: "He's not going to score, is he? He is. He's gone round the last defender. Get out of the way, Scholes! Bang! My God, he's done it! The young boy has scored!"

It helps if your life's defining moment is seen live by a billion people and if it can confer a mixture of happiness, astonishment and admiration upon your audience.

Before that day, Owen was a young striker trying to establish himself. Afterwards, he couldn't get into his own home without it being a public event. "By clipping the ball into the back of the net at the end of his amazing run," says Derbyshire with an intentional element of understatement, "Michael Owen had announced his arrival on the world stage."

Owen appreciates that he can trace much of his subsequent good fortune to that goal. Indeed, he strikes the reader as not being one of life's natural complainers and the author provides plenty of evidence to show what makes him tick - a single mindedness which is the hallmark of the successful.

Immediately after the World Cup, a phalanx of high-profile continental clubs were interested in signing Michael Owen and AC Milan were understood to have offered Liverpool £27 million, but the young man who had come through the Anfield club's renowned academy with Steven Gerrard chose to stay on Merseyside.

Derbyshire's research ensures he is good at tracing Owen's Liverpool career in minute detail and as the Reds collected their famous treble of FA Cup, UEFA Cup and League Cup in 2001, it appeared as though they were about to launch a serious challenge to Arsenal's and Manchester United's Premiership hegemony. With Owen, Gerrard and an ever-improving Jamie Carragher at the team's core, that looked a distinct possibility as they finished second to Arsenal the following season, but in truth, England's most successful club required a change at the helm to take them to the Holy Grail of the Premiership title.

There are several indications that Owen intended staying at Liverpool to get the ultimate job done: he bought a house in the village of Northop for £2.3m and there was a sense of hesitancy whenever he had spoken with David Beckham. "I've never really asked for publicity," he said, "because I don't want it", suggesting he was by no means convinced that he should join Madrid's galacticos.

Conversely, Owen talked of "the whole chemistry of the club" deteriorating under Gerard Houllier and "as the mood darkened," he says, "I felt low, fed up."

Liverpool supporters will find it odd that the club had asked Owen about signing a new contract at Christmas 2003, but did not arrange to discuss the matter formally until April 2004. Owen had already advised Liverpool that he would not 'do a Bosman' and walk out in 2005. He had shaken hands on this and was not going to go back on his word. The reader is left with the impression that Owen's Madrid transfer really did come out of the blue.

Nevertheless, in August 2004, after being left on the bench for a Champions League qualifier by new Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, Michael Owen became a Galactico, signing for Real Madrid for £8 million. Although his time in Spain was frustrating rather than unhappy, Owen's goal-scoring record (when he was given a chance to play) was outstanding. In the 2004/05 season, his goals-to-minutes-played ratio was the highest in La Liga.

Yet Owen was convinced that sitting on the bench was harming his international career and when the time came to return to the Premiership, many believed he would re-sign for Liverpool who had an option to take him back from the Bernabeu. Instead, Newcastle United's manager Graeme Souness captured his signature for nearly £17 million and Owen signed a four year deal worth £80,000 a week.

That Owen's time at St James' Park is limited to the final twenty pages of this book tells its own story: his career at Newcastle has yet to take off. Nevertheless, as Derbyshire muses, it would be foolish to underestimate such a single-minded character who has already been crowned European Footballer of the Year, was the youngest player to represent England in the twentieth century, the only England player ever to score in four major tournaments and the youngest recipient of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Let's hope for Newcastle's (assuming he stays) and England's sake, Olly Derbyshire is right.


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