Thompson says Owen can get 'even better'

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The Independent Football

As Michael Owen closes in on his century of Liverpool goals, Phil Thompson has a warning for the rest of the world: "He will get better and better".

The club's assistant manager also believes that he could even become Liverpool's greatest ever striker. To do that Owen would have to overtake Ian Rush's 346 goals for the club.

Next in the firing line are Fulham, as the Premiership leaders bid to extend their lead to six points – and 14 over defending champions Manchester United. Owen's current run rightly frightens every defence in the land. He has netted 25 in his last 24 club games and 20 in his last 21 for club and country.

If Owen scores against Fulham at Anfield tonight it will take him to a century of goals for the club in 180 matches. It has taken Owen just over four years to reach 99, and one more will make him the 15th Liverpool player to hit a century of goals.

Thompson said: "The frightening thing is that the boy can get even better. He's young, he's already experienced and there is a lot more to come from him.

"He needs to keep working, but then you know that's what you are going to get from him because he's so level-headed."

Thompson added: "Michael has so much more to his make-up than just pace. He showed that by scoring from almost 30 yards on Saturday. He can score with his head, both feet, tap-ins and now long-range.

"He deserves all the praise coming to him. He is so talented and a very level-headed young man. Michael is a great professional, and he handles himself so well on and off the pitch. He gets on fine with all the lads, superstar though he might be."

Rush believes Owen should be named European Footballer of the Year and maintains that had Owen not suffered from hamstring problems, his total could have doubled. Rush said: "If he had not struggled with injuries, he would have been well on the way to 200 by now. When you think about the goals he has scored in the Premiership, Champions League, FA Cup final and that hat-trick for England, the European Footballer of the Year award has got to be his."

Owen, who will be 22 on Friday, scored his first senior goal for the club in May 1997 as a 17-year-old on his debut at Wimbledon. Put through, one on one with the goalkeeper, Owen was deadly.

The following season he scored 23, arguably the most memorable being his strike at Old Trafford that secured a 1-1 draw. He outpaced Gary Pallister that day, and ended the match being sent off for a late tackle. His coolness under pressure and his toughness were seen in those two incidents.

Then came France 98 and the goal against Argentina, and in his second match of the following season he produced another outstanding display in scoring a hat-trick at Newcastle. That season he managed 23 goals.

Then came the first of the injury breakdowns with only 12 goals the following term. Last season saw more injuries, but 24 goals, including the two that won the FA Cup Final against Arsenal.

This season he has hit 20 in 21 games for club and country, scored with his head against Manchester United, a poachers' strike at Derby, from 30 yards against Middlesbrough and a trademark one-on-one, also against the champions.