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Houllier leads praise for retiring Owen

Former Liverpool and Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier reacts to the news that Michael Owen will retire at the end of the season

Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has led the tributes to Michael Owen after the striker announced he would retire from the game at the end of the season, believing he could go into management.

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• Blog: Owen calls it a day

Asked to sum up Owen's contribution to the game, Houllier said: "Fantastic. Practically one goal every two games for the national team, same for liverpool. A tremendous record, a lot of trophies. As a manager I was blessed to have met him and to have him in my team because it's the players like Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard Gary McAllister you never forget about and also they make you win.

"Michael was very much involved in all the trophies we won in one season and even in that year he won the best award that any footballer can dream of which is the Ballon d'Or. I think he was a fantastic player. He was clever, a very intelligent person. I remember the person as well as the player. He was extrememly fast and quick with good speed and could withstand the challenges.

"People would think he had a lot of injuries maybe because he was overplayed when he was too young, I don't know, all I can say is that he's a match winner. Many games sometimes we were one-nil down and he would have this spark to overturn the game.

Asked if he agreed that Owen had played too many games at the start of his career, Houllier said: "I don't know. He admitted that one day, I know sometimes I'd rest him and he wouldn't like that because he had this fire in his belly, he was a great competitor. He was spectacular to watch. He could beat players, he could go fast and he had a fantastic skill in front of goal. In that category of skill I have met only probably Robbie Fowler. Both were outstanding in front of goal."

Could Owen go into management? "Well he's bright, clever enough to do that," said Houllier. "He's always been a very team thinking type of player like Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, they are very much team orientated."

Former England boss Glenn Hoddle has labelled Michael Owen one of the country's "greatest ever finishers". Hoddle handed an 18-year-old Owen his international debut in 1998 before blooding him at the World Cup in France the same year, scene of his career-defining goal against Argentina.

And despite Owen's career never quite reaching the dizzy heights of his early years, Hoddle feels the former Liverpool and Manchester United man should be remembered as one of England's greatest forwards.

"He is in the top four of our greatest ever finishers, along with Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer,'' Hoddle told Sky Sports News. "Some might say he is at the top of that list.

"He was a baby-faced assassin. His finishing was amazing for a young man. He had that coolness in the penalty box. Some players get anxious but he seemed to get calmer and calmer.

"Michael also had that wonderful intelligence to make the right movement to stay onside. He must have been a nightmare to defend against.''

Owen, who was the first English player since Kevin Keegan to win the Ballon d'Or when he claimed the prize in 2001, was blighted by injuries which prevented him from breaking Gary Lineker's record of 49 goals for the Three Lions.

But former international team-mate Frank Lampard insists Owen will be remembered for plenty of memorable contributions for England - notably that goal against Argentina.

"A fantastic player, the kind of player you are very proud to play alongside," Lampard said. "I played with him quite a few times. I watched him score goals for England in World Cups when I wasn't there, so I think he will go down in our history in England as one of the greatest goal scorers and strikers we've had.

"He deserves very high praise. The hat-trick in Munich [in a World Cup qualifier in 2001] was obviously fantastic, but to come on at the age that he did against Argentine with a bang and score a goal of such eye catching quality was something very special. It is one of those moments that sticks in everyone's mind. Not just Michael Owen moments, but England in general.

"Without maybe some injury problems at the latter end, he would have gone on and broken all the goal scoring records and probably get 100 caps, but he should not have any real frustrations because his career was absolutely top drawer for club and country."

Owen played under Sven Goran Eriksson for six years in the England team and the Swede was also keen to add his voice to those praising the Stoke striker.

"He's always been a fantastic football player,'' Eriksson said. "He's a danger all the time. You never had any problems with Michael Owen, on or off the pitch.

"He was always professional and you knew if you had him in your team he could score the winning goal. He's one of those players out there who can win the game for you, as he did so many times in his career.

"The only problem with Michael Owen was his injuries. It has been going on for a long time. He's been unlucky because he couldn't work as hard as he wanted and he missed too many games.

"That's a pity for him, a pity for England, a pity for the clubs he played for and the pity for football.''

Jamie Carragher revealed in his column for the Daily Mail that he urged his former England and Liverpool team-mate to remain at Anfield.

"Liverpool had just signed Djibril Cisse and Milan Baros had returned from Euro 2004 as the winner of the Golden Boot," Carragher wrote. "Michael felt the time was right to pursue a fresh challenge. I told him he was making a mistake, that Madrid were a football club rife with politics and he wouldn't play.

"They had Raul and Ronaldo, who always played, and to be a success at Madrid, you had to be more than just a goalscorer but Michael wouldn't be moved. He thought he was the best and would become a success in Spain.

"And in difficult circumstances, he did very well. Despite Real Madrid having three managers that season and him getting limited starting opportunities, he scored 16 times in 45 appearances."

Owen heeded Carragher's advice after a spell at Newcastle but was denied the opportunity to return to Liverpool under Rafa Benitez.

"Liverpool supporters did not take too kindly to the way he left but I'm a firm believer that time is a healer and I'm sure they would have welcomed him back after his contract at Newcastle had expired," Carragher added.

"The way he left Liverpool had saddened Michael and he wanted the opportunity to redeem himself. I sent Rafa Benitez a message explaining what Liverpool could get on a free transfer but Benitez instead went out and bought David Ngog.

"Joining United was a mistake. It ruined any chance of him repairing things with Liverpool fans and it's safe to say United supporters never really took to him despite his famous winner against Manchester City."


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