Hoddle, Eriksson & Lampard salute Owen

Former England manager Glenn Hoddle has hailed the career of "baby-faced assassin" Michael Owen and claimed he could go down as England's finest all-time finisher.

Owen confirmed on Tuesday that he would be retiring at the end of the season after Stoke City opted not to extend his contract. The striker has always maintained he had no interest in dropping down the leagues and preferred instead to concentrate on a career in the media in addition to his growing horse racing empire.

Ultimately, Owen will be remembered as much for the injuries that have blighted the latter part of his career as the brilliance that characterised the start of it. However, Hoddle, who gave the Chester-born star his international debut in 1998 ahead of that brilliant 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ goal against Argentina, feels Owen deserves a place amongst the very best-ever England 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."

I wouldn't have had the confidence to run past five Argentinian defenders at that age. It is one of the moments that sticks in my mind about England, not just Michael Owen.
Frank Lampard on Michael Owen's wonder goal at France 1998

The first English player to win the European Footballer of the Year award since Kevin Keegan, when he scooped the prize in 2001, Owen could hardly have made a more dramatic introduction to life on the international scene, slaloming through the Argentina defence before scoring one of the most memorable England goals.

And, although he also netted a memorable hat-trick in that 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, former Three Lions team-mate Frank Lampard believes it will be the goal against Argentina for which Owen will always be remembered.

"The hat-trick in Munich was fantastic," said Lampard. "He was at the top of his game at the time, but to come on at the age he did and score a goal of such eye-catching quality was amazing.

"I was a fan at that stage, watching the game in a bar. I wouldn't have had the confidence to run past five Argentinian defenders at that age. It is one of the moments that sticks in my mind about England, not just Michael Owen."

Eriksson laments Owen injuries
Owen's heroics in Munich run a close second though, followed by his exploits at club level, where he scored in UEFA Cup and FA Cup finals for Liverpool in their 2001 treble-winning campaign. A decade after that came his first Premier League title, for Manchester United, for whom he also scored a memorable goal against Manchester City.

"He's always been a fantastic football player," said former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. "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."

When he scored his 40th international goal in 2007, it seemed just a matter of time before he eclipsed Sir Bobby Charlton to become England's leading marksman. The fact he never got another was almost entirely due to a chronic run of injuries, which took the edge off that explosive pace and never allowed him to build up a run of games to force his way back on to the international stage.

"The only problem with Michael Owen was his injuries," said Eriksson. "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."