Everyone once in a while, a footballer comes along who feels destined for greatness – and Michael Owen was definitely one of them.
In the era before the internet made emerging talent ten-a-penny, Owen was distinctive for being a known quantity among the football crazies at my school.
Whether it was a school friend with a devout Liverpool fan for a dad, or our P.E. teacher who spent time on the books at Wimbledon, Owen was being tipped as one to watch and we knew it.
A school trip to see England Under-15s take on Brazil at Wembley in March 1995 offered a chance to see Owen in the flesh for the first time. He didn’t disappoint.
In hindsight, our teachers’ warnings about bringing flares into the ground seemed a little misjudged – few of those attendance were over the age of 12, after all. But they probably should have told us not to splash out on the various scarves sold there, most of which began to show alarming signs of wear before the game had even kicked off.
Even so, a look back at the programme from that overcast day at the awe-inspiring old Wembley, twin towers and all, reveals there were plenty of future stars on display for both sides that afternoon.
Wes Brown and Michael Ball both featured for England, while Julio Cesar was in goal for Brazil alongside a buck-toothed striker by the name of Ronaldo – or, as he would later be known, Ronaldinho.
But it was Owen who took centre stage.
A few weeks before the game, the Liverpool youngster had set a marker with a hat-trick for England’s Under-15s in a 7-0 shellacking of Belgium.
The goals didn’t flow quite so freely against the Samba Boys, but Owen still came up with the one moment of genuine class in an otherwise ordinary game.
It started with Jamie Burt – a player whose life and promising career was cut short by heroin addiction – who burst down the right flank, sending a cross into the Brazil box.
Applying a deft touch to take the ball down, Owen collided with the oncoming Cesar in a challenge that could have resulted in a penalty, had it not been for what happened next.
After quickly rising to his feet, a very little Mo composed himself in a heartbeat before thumping the ball home with unerring accuracy off the underside of the bar.
In a heartbeat, England’s future star had shown the poise, determination and instinctive talent that would come to the fore just a few years later in the 1998 World Cup (read on here for Owen's own account of what happened next when his life changed forever).
This goal was scored in front of a packed crowd of mostly school kids waving plastic St George’s flags (it was a different time), but England manager Terry Venables was also in attendance.
“It was an outstanding goal… he’s very good,” Venables told Sky Sports. “He showed himself to be the player he is on several occasions today.”
El Tel wasn’t wrong. That evening we headed home in a jubilant mood, chanting all the way down the M4 and telling anyone who would listen: “that Michael Owen is a bit special...”
We weren’t wrong either.
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