Michael Owen has picked out the injury that changed his career and the opponent who threatened to break his legs on his return from the 1998 World Cup.
The Liverpool striker had taken the ’98 World Cup by storm, scoring twice, including a wonderful solo goal against Argentina, which has since been voted England’s third greatest of all time.
He lined up against Newcastle in August 1998 full of confidence and recalls how Stuart Pearce, then aged 36, had tried to intimidate him before the kick-off.
Asked if he was confident going into the 1998/99 season, Owen told Gary Neville’s Soccerbox on Sky Sports: “Slightly,” laughing away.
“This was my first game since the World Cup and when I jogged up to my position it was the first time anyone had ever said anything to me.
“It was Stuart Pearce and straightaway it was ‘you’re playing against me today son’ and it was serious talking about legs breaking and everything.”
Neville said: “His legs had gone a little bit by then but that was probably his way of winning the battle.”
“He tried to frighten me a little bit,” said Owen, who went on to blast a first-half hat-trick with the Reds winning 4-1 at St James’ Park.
“When I look back on my career and someone asked me recently who did I like playing against the most and I said Newcastle and West Ham.
“Looking at the stats, even though I played for Newcastle for four years, I still scored more goals against them than any other team.”
Neville then asks Owen about the injuries that plagued his career.
“The one annoyance in my career was that I had to change my game due to injuries, people look at me and ‘goalscorer’.
“When I was at United I vividly remember near the end when Giggs or Scholes I was thinking if I sprint into the corner I’m going to do my hamstring, so I’d just come short and I was a just a predator,” he said.
“After my year out with my knee injury. I was at Liverpool, then I went to Real Madrid and felt great. I returned to Newcastle and for the first six months I was flying then I broke my foot, came back played one game and went to the World Cup and I was totally deconditioned, did my knee and I was basically out for 18 months.
“I just wasn’t the same after that, it was purely speed. My touch was still there and I felt good in training, but I had lost a yard and I lost confidence in my body.”