Michael Owen picked up the 2001 Ballon d'Or with some commentators in Spain arguing that Raúl had a stronger case for winning the award that year. Fifteen years on, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid centre-forward revealed that he had prior knowledge that he was going to win the Ballon d'Or.
Owen says that he received the new just as he and the rest of the Liverpool squad were about to take to the pitch at the Olimpico for the pre-match warm-up ahead of their Champions League meeting with Roma on 5th December 2001. “I remember that the circumstances were a little out of the ordinary because Gérard Houllier was having health problems, he'd undergone heart surgery in October and he was still recovering. In his absence, his assistant Phil Thompson, took over and we were in Italy playing Roma. An hour before kick-off, Phil told me to go to the changing rooms because the boss wanted to talk to me. It seemed a bit strange to me because I was just about to go out for the warm-up”, Owen told France Football.
The boss is on the phone
Owen went back to the visitors' changing room and picked up the phone where Houllier was on the other end of the line. He recalled that phone call and Houllier's words: “Michael I must tell you something which maybe might make you perform well tonight, but I can only tell you on one condition - you must promise me that you won't tell anyone. You have been voted the best player in Europe, you are the new Ballon d'Or winner. Congratulations!”.
Owen described his reaction: "It was strange but at the same time, fantastic”.
Perhaps Owen's mind was elsewhere that night as Liverpool and Roma played out a goalless draw. But just as Houllier had told him, he was presented the Ballon d'Or just under a fortnight later on 18 December.