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Interview with Michael Owen: Former England striker talks Bellingham, Real Madrid, Premier League

Michael Owen spoke to AS USA about playing for Real Madrid, how he rates the Premier League and whether he thinks Messi should win the Ballon d’Or.

Michael Owen spoke to AS USA about playing for Real Madrid, how he rates the Premier League and whether he thinks Messi should win the Ballon d’Or.
Peter CziborraREUTERS

AS USA sat down with former Real Madrid and England striker Michael Owen to chat about Jude Bellingham’s adaptation to life in Spain with Real Madrid.

The 2001 Ballon d’Or winner also spoke about the state of play in the Premier League, as well as the gap between the two Manchester clubs in England’s top division.

Finally, Owen gave his thoughts on the current race for the Ballon d’Or, with Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi favoured by some to win the award, but there is a certain Norwegian striker who would have something to say about that.

Here is the full chat…

Owen made his debut in 1996 and scored over 100 goals in 8 years at Liverpool.
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Owen made his debut in 1996 and scored over 100 goals in 8 years at Liverpool.Getty Images

How do you rate what you’ve seen in the Premier League so far this season? Who has stood out for you?

With City losing a couple of games, it has all of a sudden given everybody a feeling that the season could be quite competitive. There are quite a few teams that are up there near the top of the table. We are nearly a quarter of the way through the season already, so it’s a decent enough chunk.

And there are some good stories from great individual performances. Haaland has kicked off pretty well again, scoring lots of goals, Heung Min Son at Tottenham has obviously had a really good start: I thought he would, I thought this manager (Ange Postecoglou) would be perfect for him. The added responsibility, the fact that he was injured with a hernia problem for most of last season - I know how that can affect people. I just fancied him to bounce back this season. He was my Player of the Year award prediction at the start of the season so I hope he continues.

Liverpool have shrugged off the doubts about such a turnaround in their midfield, but they’ve had a good start as well. Arsenal are as expected… I think I think it’s been a really good start.

I had Aston Villa down [as a good team]; I don’t think that was a huge prediction because lots of people did fancy them but probably coming seventh or eighth in the league, whereas I think they could be dark horses for a Champions League spot and it’s nice to see them doing well. It’s been a really good start. I’ve been enjoying it.

Son is thriving once again at Spurs and has 7 goals.
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Son is thriving once again at Spurs and has 7 goals.ISABEL INFANTESEFE

What’s your prediction for the Manchester Derby at the weekend?

Well, I think there’s a little bit of a gap between City and United at present. I think once Ten Hag took over I think there were clear signs that Manchester United were improving and obviously they had a good season, getting into the Champions League and winning a trophy.

Visually, I wasn’t as impressed as I was in black and white, I thought the team got lucky a few times. I don’t think that performances matched their results, but it’s all about the trophies that you win and winning games and things like that. So you’re prepared to write that off but at the start of this season, I’ve been slightly disappointed with the way Manchester United have played and I think City are a level above them at the moment. So I would go for a City win, something like 3-1.

Owen played for Manchester United between 2009 and 2012.
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Owen played for Manchester United between 2009 and 2012.JOHN MACDOUGALLAFP

I wanted to talk to you about your move to Spain and how you dealt with the adaptation from going from England to a foreign country. Can you see similarities in terms of how Jude Bellingham is coping so far in the capital?

It’s not very easy moving to another country, no matter where you go to, and from, and especially when you’re very young and still not very experienced in life. But I had a wonderful time in Spain, I absolutely loved my year in Spain.

Circumstances meant it only ended up being a year, because I think the club at the time already had a lot of strikers, and I was one of four top strikers with Morientes, Raúl and Ronaldo. And then we bought a couple more players again over that summer. I just thought that I was not going to get much of a look in here if this is the case. I think Robinho signed and one or two others.

Also, the club at the time, I’m pretty sure, wanted to buy Sergio Ramos and needed to to fund that. I think I was the easiest player to move on to make some money: they bought me for 8 million and a 16 million bid had come in from the UK, so I was probably one that they could dispense off to get some money to buy Ramos.

Michael Owen, during his Real Madrid presentation.
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Michael Owen, during his Real Madrid presentation.Helios de la RubiaDiario AS

The President was great with me. He spoke to me and said ‘listen, we would love you to stay, but if you wanted to go back to the UK, we won’t stand in your way’. It was all very amicable. That’s why it was only a year, but I certainly felt that my year in Spain was successful, [even if] we didn’t win LaLiga that year.

We came second to a great Barcelona team but I felt I was popular with the fans. I felt that I really enjoyed sharing the dressing room with my teammates and it was a really good dressing room to be part of - it was hugely experienced.

I scored quite a lot of goals and I think there was only Samuel Eto’o with a better goals per minute record in La Liga. I look back on it with fondness, I look back on it thinking it was a successful time. And yeah, it’s great to see all the English players making that jump; going to Madrid is probably the biggest move for anybody in world football.

There are other huge teams in the world, but Real Madrid, growing up and even to this day [is a big move]. Look how many Champions Leagues they have compared to everyone else. There was just something magical about that club and I followed in the footsteps of some great players like Steve McManaman, David Beckham, of course. And it looks like Real Madrid have got another one in Jude Bellingham.

Michael Owen played just one season at Real Madrid.
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Michael Owen played just one season at Real Madrid.HELIOS DE LA RUBIADIARIO AS

How important is it for Bellingham to know how to handle the bad times as well as the good times at a club like Real Madrid?

Well, hopefully he doesn’t have to handle the bad times. And the way he is going, there might not be any bad times. [Bellingham] is certainly very mature, very level-headed. That’s probably a strength. He’s a great player, but he’s a really good person as well. And I think that helps.

Every footballer has got to be able to cope with the pressure of being very good, the pressure of being lauded and having to keep your feet on the ground when it goes [well]. And then when it goes the other way, [it is important] to manage the problems that go with it and being able to think that you’re not as bad as everybody says you are. Trying to keep a middle ground as a footballer is quite key. It’s quite key to everyone in life, I guess.

But in football, people tend to exaggerate one way or the other. So you’re either the best in the world or the worst in the world. And I think that’s a problem that faces most people: the better you are as a player, the more you have to face it. That comes with the territory.

Bellingham has hit the ground running at Real Madrid.
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Bellingham has hit the ground running at Real Madrid.HUGO DELGADOEFE

Who do you think deserves to win the Ballon d’Or and who will win it?

Well, I think two people probably deserve to win the Ballon d’Or this year. You get some years where there has not necessarily been a massive standout, or you think it might have been a weaker year.

But I think this year, you could certainly say there’ve been two outstanding candidates in my opinion: Erling Haaland scored 52 goals in 53 and has won a treble - that’s a pretty impressive year’s work for him.

But I don’t think he’s going to win, I think he’s going to be a gallant second. Because Messi has obviously had the year that he probably dreamt of all his career. He’s probably had better years in terms of performances, but to win a World Cup and be the star of the show, it almost rounds off the perfect career, doesn’t it? So I’d be surprised if he didn’t win.

Interview conducted by AS USA with DAZN Bet.