Football: Owen out for rest of the season

MICHAEL OWEN is out of football for three months with a hamstring and tendon injury. Yesterday the Liverpool and England striker discovered the results of the scan on his right leg which reveals far worse damage than was first feared.

Owen will miss England's next three matches - the friendly against Hungary in Budapest on 28 April and the European Championship qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria on 5 and 9 June.

Owen limped out of Monday's Premiership match at Leeds with a recurrence of the hamstring injury that has affected him twice before this season. Liverpool only discovered the full extent of his injury when they received hospital reports yesterday.

Gerard Houllier, the Anfield club's manager, said: "The scan has revealed damage to the hamstring and the tendon. It will take six weeks to recover from. Then it will take another six weeks after that to build up the strength in the leg again."

Houllier had already decided that Owen would have been given a long rest to recover from the stresses of almost three seasons of non-stop football before he knew the full extent of the injury. Now the teenage striker will miss Liverpool's final seven games of the season as well as the three England internationals.

It is a big blow for England's caretaker coach, Kevin Keegan, who could not pick Owen for the Euro 2000 win over Poland last month following a similar injury sustained at Derby in March.

Owen also missed several games last November with another similar injury, which cost him an England appearance against the Czech Republic.

Houllier was already concerned about Owen's general fitness before the scan reports. The 19-year-old, who became a national celebrity following his goal against Argentina at France 98, has played an incredible 85 of Liverpool's 91 games since he made his debut against Wimbledon in May 1997. He has also played 13 full internationals and one England Under- 21 fixture, plus a youth international in the past 18 months.

In the previous two close seasons he has figured in the Youth World Championship in Malaysia and, last summer, in the World Cup finals in France. Owen has scored 23 goals in 40 games this season, and in his Liverpool career he has collected 47 goals.

The fear at Liverpool must be that, after three hamstring injuries in six months, Owen could have a long-term problem if he is not given a lengthy break to recover. At Old Trafford, Manchester United have often had to cope without Ryan Giggs, who has had constant hamstring problems.

The Football Association's interim executive director, David Davies, said: "Obviously everyone connected with England is very disappointed to hear this news about Michael, and we all wish him a speedy recovery.

"We will look forward to him being back in contention for the crucial Euro 2000 qualifying matches in September against Luxembourg and Poland."

Last night Owen said: "Naturally I am disappointed to be injured but I have complete confidence in the medical team at Anfield and I know that they will have me back playing as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, Robbie Fowler is still planning to take on the FA with an appeal against his two-game ban for insulting Graeme Le Saux.

Fowler is still considering his next move after meetings with the Anfield club, who would prefer that he takes his punishment both for that offence and his "coke-sniffing" goal celebrations against Everton.

However, Fowler is unhappy that he was given a bigger penalty than Le Saux. The Chelsea left-back was given a one-match suspension and a fine. Fowler would like the FA to reconsider its punishment, but Liverpool fear that could mean a delay to the period when he serves his ban and possibly an increase in the sentence.

At the moment Fowler is due to be ruled out for six matches in total, with one of those at the start of next season. But the England forward could still miss a bigger chunk of next season, should the FA reconsider the case and possibly increase the suspension.