Owen points finger at Reds over fitness
Michael Owen has agreed with his former boss Sir Alex Ferguson and blamed Liverpool for causing his injury strewn career by over-using him as a youngster.
Owen, 32, believes playing "80-odd games a year" as a youth coming through the Anfield academy is the root cause for the catalogue of breakdowns he has suffered in the latter part of his career.
And Owen also feels his most serious hamstring injury, suffered in 1999 at Leeds United, was not treated sufficiently, depriving him of a longer, more productive career at the top of the game.
Owen made his Liverpool debut as a 17-year-old and admits he was more than happy to play so many games - but now the former England striker wishes he had been given the same cotton wool treatment at Anfield that Ferguson reserves for his bright young stars at Old Trafford.
Ferguson made some pointed remarks recently claiming Owen should have been handled better as a young player and would have been more injury free.
"Sir Alex had made some comments suggesting that I would have been a better player had I been managed more effectively in the early part of my career," said Owen on his official website. "I have to agree with most of what he said except the usage of the word 'better'. In my opinion, had I been managed differently I would have been at my best for longer as opposed to being a better player.
"As a youngster, I was considered exceptional and in many ways, that was to my detriment. While I was playing every game available to me, there was another young kid in the Liverpool academy called Steven Gerrard who was also showing huge potential.
"Unlike me, who was playing 80-odd games a year, Stevie just couldn't stay fit. I am convinced that this played to his advantage in the long run. I couldn't get enough of it. I would play a full season with Liverpool and then once the season was over, while everyone wrapped their best youngsters up to have a summer break, I was jetting off to play for England, sometimes playing three years above my age group at the highest level. This continued for a few years. I played week in, week out without a break, for years."
Owen is in no doubt the cold night in March 1999 at Elland Road was the key moment in his career which his 19-year-old body snapped under the crazy workload.
"My body made me pay for pushing it to the limit too often," he explained. "My hamstring snapped in two and it was at that point that my ability to perform unimpeded was finished. It didn't have to be that way. My rehabilitation was compromised due to our physio [Mark Leather] leaving the club that summer and not being replaced until the following season and with no regular medical care during such a critical time, a routine injury was destined to restrict me for the rest of my career.
"It is due to this factor (confirmed by many medical experts), that I have suffered multiple injuries since. People laugh when I say that I am not naturally injury prone. It is my genuine opinion that I have become injury prone due to overplaying at a young age, suffering an injury as a result and then having a dreadful rehabilitation at such a critical time."
Owen played 316 games for club and country ahead of his 24th birthday. In comparison Ryan Giggs (112), Paul Scholes (123) and David Beckham (184) were handled with care by Ferguson.
"I certainly feel I played 'Too Much Too Soon' [the name of Owen's blog]. I cringe when I look back on a quote I came out with after Gerard Houllier 'rested' me for a game. 'I will rest when I'm 40' I muttered in an interview," he added.
"How wrong could I be? You can't force nature and nature has certainly forced me to "rest" far more than I would have wanted in the second half of my career. Looking back on my career thinking what might have been there is no doubt I would have won more honours had I signed for Manchester United as a youngster.
"I am pretty confident I would have been at the height of my powers over a longer period of time too. But would I change anything if I could rewind the clock? Not a chance! The best years of my life were at Liverpool."