Football: Little fear that Owen will go partying

England's teenage striker takes a sober view of his World Cup responsibilities. Mike Rowbottom reports
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The Independent Online
IT WAS unfortunate for Michael Owen that his scheduled press conference yesterday should have taken place on a day when the papers were full of the night-clubbing indiscretions of his England colleague Teddy Sheringham.

Or perhaps it was fortunate. Because the prodigiously talented Liverpool forward could hardly have come out better from the perceived comparison.

While the 32-year-old Sheringham chose to spend his last spare days before the World Cup finals visiting Algarve night spots, the 18-year-old went back to his family home in Chester, which he left yesterday morning, to rejoin the England party - appearing en route at an event marking his new six-year deal with Umbro.

Owen, old beyond his years off the pitch as well as on it, remained guarded in his comments about the behaviour of Sheringham and Paul Gascoigne, whose lack of discipline was a contributory factor in his being dropped from the final World Cup squad.

"I think any professional has got responsibilities and they do what they feel is right, so it's down to them," he said, without being drawn into any particular cases.

Soon after Owen came into the England reckoning Glenn Hoddle appeared to sound a warning note to him when he expressed the hope that the youngster would ensure his lifestyle was an appropriate one. It was a reference which Owen felt moved to clarify with the England coach, who told him that it was not directed personally. "Glenn said he was talking about a whole host of young lads in my age group," Owen said. "People like Rio Ferdinand and Emile Heskey. He said that no one had a problem, but that there were so many pitfalls in the game now that we had to be careful.

"Footballers are more in the limelight now, and you've got to be more professional off the pitch nowadays than you had to. So that has changed in the game. It's unfortunate that some players don't get time to themselves without being mobbed. I would prefer to be able to go out and do the things normal 18-year-olds do, but it goes with the job. And I wouldn't change my life for anything else. I'm sure there are lots of 18-year-olds who would willingly change places with me."

Owen's mode of transport to yesterday's appearance mirrored his sudden arrival on the international football scene - he arrived from the skies in a helicopter which eventually whirled him away again into the England fold.

Owen, who used to box as a schoolboy and has an eight handicap as a golfer, comes from a large sporting family. He will be watched in France by his mother, his youngest sister and his father, Terry, a former Everton forward whom he describes as the major influence in his career.

Father and son were regulars at Anfield, where Michael would concentrate on watching the Liverpool forwards whom he was eventually to join - Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler.

He acknowledged that a season which has already seen him become England's youngest-ever goalscorer has been close to bewildering. "It all happened so quickly," he said. "To achieve the things I have so far has been great. I wasn't even expecting to play many games for Liverpool at the start of the season. To think that I'm going to the World Cup and I got a chance of playing in another couple is a tremendous feeling. I would have settled for going to one when I was a youngster."

Asked if he felt England could win, he replied with conviction: "Yes, I believe so. I think every other player in the camp believes so. There is no reason why we shouldn't, so we will go out there and not settle for anything less than first place."