Biggest achievement is still to be playing at the top, says Michael Owen

 

Anfield saw the best of Michael Owen. His record of 158 goals in 297 Liverpool appearances, many in front of the Kop, comfortably eclipses that with Real Madrid, Newcastle United and Manchester United.

For them combined he scored 63 goals in 176 appearances and there has been a sense of decline about his career for years. His 89th and last England cap was in 2008; at 32 a recall seems unlikely.

Owen returns to Anfield today still seeking his first goal at the ground since leaving Merseyside. He is also yet to score for Stoke, though his on-pitch time has been brief so far.

Why Stoke? To be by his horses of course. So goes the theory and yesterday both Owen and one of his former team-mates, Steve McManaman, were at pains to dispel it. Owen wrote on his website: "People evolve. Long gone are the days when I had little else in my life other than football. I'm now happily married and have four children.

"I part-own a physiotherapy business and a racing stables among other interests, employing over 50 people in the process. Inevitably, taking on these responsibilities requires a certain amount of time and effort, but does that necessarily mean I have taken my eye off the ball when it comes to plying my trade? Absolutely not!"

"So, why did I get the urge to justify my actions? Because it feels like a slur on my character and integrity to hear people questioning my desire.

"Nature has dictated I am no longer the player I once was. It's got nothing to do with dedication, hunger or desire. Due to the nature of my injuries I have had to re-invent myself and the way I play. No longer can I sprint 100 times in a game at lightning speed, and as a result I have had to adapt. I believe my greatest achievement is to still be playing at the highest level after all the injuries I've suffered."

McManaman, who played alongside Owen for Liverpool and England, said: "This idea that Michael is more interested in horse racing these days, it is a myth. I know how desperate Michael is to play in the Premier League. He loves playing football and if he is fit and well he will score goals.

"I think it is a wonderful bit of business by Stoke. It was a no-brainer to me and I was surprised there were not more clubs interested. Michael has been training at Manchester United so he should still be sharp, he just needs to be playing matches.

"You cannot rule out England. When Wayne [Rooney] was out of the last squad there were few options. If Michael scores 20 goals this season there will be a clamour to pick him; if he gets one you won't hear anything."

* Daniel Agger has signed a contract extension with Liverpool which it is believed will tie the 27-year-old defender to the club until 2016.

Unhappy returns: Owen fires blanks

* Michael Owen has failed to score in four returns to Anfield since leaving Liverpool in 2004.

26/12/05 Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle

8/3/08 Liverpool 3-0 Newcastle

3/5/09 Liverpool 3-0 Newcastle

25/10/09 Liverpool 2-0 Man United

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