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FOOTBALL

Michael Owen: "I was already in decline by the time I was 23"

The former Liverpool and Real Madrid player looked back over his career and his injury problems: "I was at my best at 17, 18, 19".

Michael Owen: "I was already in decline by the time I was 23"

Michael Owen was one of the best players in the world during his time. The striker was already making a name for himself in the youth teams at Liverpool when Roy Evans decided he was ready for a place in the first team squad - even though he was still only 17. He triumped at Anfield, where he became a Kop idol but in 2004, with a year to run on his contract, he decided to further his career at Real Madrid, only to return home after one season. His spent the final years of his playing days at Newcastle, Manchester United then Stoke City before hanging up his boots in 2013. Now a television pundit and celebrating his 40th birthday today, Owen looked back on his playing days and spoke about his injury problems, winning the Ballon d'Or and joining Real Madrid...

Michael Owen: "I was already in decline by the time I was 23"

Liverpool days: Owen and Fowler.

Owen's meteoric rise at Liverpool

“Up until the age of 20 I was probably one of the best in the world at that age. That continued for a certain period of time but then injuries slowed me down. I was probably on the decline at 23. When you ruture your hamstring and it doesn't repair I was compromised. That happened to me when I was 19 and I won the Ballon d'Or at 21", Owen told The Independent's Carl Markham

Michael Owen: "I was already in decline by the time I was 23"

Beckham celebrates one of Owen's goals for Madrid.

Owen's strike rate was better than Ronaldo's and Raúl's

Owen didn't get much playing time at Real Madrid - hardly surprising as he was never going to dislodge Ronaldo and Raúl from that line-up. Nevertheless, even coming off the bench - as he usually did, he ended his one and only season at the club with a better strike rate to the Brazilian and Raúl in LaLiga (Owen scored 13 goals in 1,878 minutes; Ronaldo, 21 goals in 2,802 minutes, Raúl, 9 goals in 2,582 minutes). "I'm really pleased I played for Real Madrid, it was an opportunity to try something different. It was the Holy Grail in many ways to go and play for Barcelona or Real Madrid".

No regrets

After a year in Madrid, Owen was keen to come home but things had moved on at Anfield under new coach Rafa Benítez and also, the club were reluctant to buy a player back for double the amount they had sold him for 12 months earlier... "I wished things had been different and had come back to Liverpool and lived happily ever after. I signed for Manchester United (Liverpool's eternal rivals), because that was the best option for me at the time. I'm not ashamed of what I did - despite people wanting me to be ashamed. It was never my dream to play for Stoke, Manchester United and Newcastle, but that's where my career took me", Owen concluded.