Owen rewarded for keeping the faith

A weaker character than Michael Owen would have been destroyed by his injury nightmare, but the England striker is reaping the rewards after refusing to give in.

sports Updated: Sep 13, 2007 12:21 IST

A weaker character than Michael Owen would have been destroyed by his injury nightmare, but the England striker is reaping the rewards after refusing to give in.

Owen is emerging from an injury-ravaged 18 months looking better than ever and he underlined his resurgence with a clinical double strike against Russia on Wednesday.

It could all have been very different if the most gifted English finisher of his generation had listened to the doom merchants who predicted a series of problems, most seriously cruciate knee ligament damage, would curtail his top-level career.

From suggestions he had lost the blistering pace that was such a vital part of his game to accusations the injuries had dulled the voracious appetite for goals all top forwards need, Owen heard every possible slight.

But he has tremendous reserves of self-belief and determination. The barbs only added fuel to Owen's fire as he embarked on a gruelling recovery programme after Dr Richard Steadman operated on his knee last year.

Owen's resilience is paying off. He has scored five times in four games for club and country - his best run of form for nearly two years.

The crucial goals in the 3-0 win over Russia showed his predatory instincts remain as sharp as ever. Not that Owen ever doubted that would be the case.

"We all know mentally I'm a very strong person," he said. "There might be a lot of people that have got a lot more skill than me but not many that are mentally as strong as me.

"When it comes to long-term injuries, lack of form and criticism then I have got thicker skin than anyone.

"I never doubted I would be back. I went to the best surgeon in the world. I did the best rehab you could ever do.

"My willpower to come back was strong. I don't think anyone could say I've come back worse than when I got injured.

"Everyone knows I've never been arrogant or bigheaded but I've always been a confident player. It always helps when you score a few goals."

Owen's goal tally for England has reached 40 and he is only nine away from equalling Sir Bobby Charlton's record as the country's all-time leading scorer.

The former Liverpool star admitted he would love to break the record, even if it takes another three or four years.

"I have thought about getting the record because since I scored my 31st and 32nd I get asked about it every time," he said. "I hope I get asked nine more times if I'm lucky enough to get there.

"It would be a wonderful achievement and I would be very proud if it were ever to happen but it's still quite a long way off.

"As we all know, internationally if you score three or four goals in a full year you've done well. If that's the case then I still need to keep my form and play for another three or four years."

Owen is more concerned with medals than records and, thanks to his goals, England are back on course for another shot at a major trophy.

After wins over Israel and then Russia in the space of five days, Steve McClaren's side, who lie second in Group E, are finally in control of their own destiny in the race for Euro 2008.

Owen admits it is about time England started to fulfill their potential.

"It's a good group of players. We know that despite what anyone said over time," he said.

"We've proved far too infrequently really so these two games have been encouraging. If we can keep progressing like that we will be onto a big thing."

A key to Owen and England's resurgence has been McClaren's decision to bring Emile Heskey back from a three-year international exile.

Heskey has been Owen's preferred partner since their time at Liverpool and he has thrived again alongside the muscular forward.

"Emile has come back from a long time out of the international fray and in both games he has played particularly well," Owen said.

"He got a standing ovation both times. That says it all and I'm really pleased for him."

First Published: Sep 13, 2007 12:20 IST