Twenty years ago, Michael Owen received the Ballon d’Or after beating Raul Gonzalez and Oliver Kahn in the voting to officially become the world’s best player.
He was just 21 years old when he picked up the award and fresh off the back of a UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup treble with Liverpool.
Owen, who is the last Englishman to have won football’s top individual prize, was interviewed by the Daily Mail on the 20th anniversary of him picking up the award, and he spoke about his career at Liverpool, Real Madrid and the English national team.
He was of course extremely young when he was crowned the world’s top player, but unaware of the injury issues that lay ahead, he didn’t think it would be the only time he’d receive this honour.
“At 21? Oh, I definitely thought I could win another Ballon d’Or,” Owen told the Daily Mail.
“I still didn’t know injuries would compromise me so much.”
“It hurts my pride when I think people remember me from mid-20s onwards.”
“I had ‘Owen’ on my back, but I wasn’t ‘Michael Owen.’
“I was hanging on for dear life. I had the mentality of one of the best players in the world, but my body was failing me. It was torture.”
Owen won his Ballon d’Or at 21, but believes his best football had come a couple of years before.
“From 10 to 17, I believe there wasn’t anyone in the world as good,” he said.
“By 18, I was scoring goals at a World Cup. By 21, [I secured] the Ballon d’Or.”
“But honestly, I was better at 19. That was when I suffered a crippling injury. Everything comes back to that.”
Owen’s time at Real Madrid
When Owen signed for Real Madrid in 2004, however, it really hit home what winning the Ballon d’Or meant.
“It was only when I joined Real Madrid and it was all, ‘We’ve signed a Ballon d’Or winner!’ Owen said.
“I was like, ‘Jesus, no one gives me any credit back home’. Now, I look at it with so much pride.”
He also realised just how big a club Real Madrid was after scoring in a 4-2 win over Barcelona.
“I was never overawed by playing with the likes of [Zinedine] Zidane,” Owen claimed.
“But this one time, it hit me. I was with my family in the players’ lounge and the scorers’ names appeared on the big screen: [Samuel] Eto’o. Ronaldinho. Zidane. Ronaldo [Nazario]. Raul. Owen. Me and my dad looked at it, ‘F***ing hell’.
“In that one moment, it all felt so right.”