Former England, Manchester United and Real Madrid forward Michael Owen dropped into the Home of FIFA last week, and during his visit he chatted to FIFA.com about life after professional football.
The nippy frontman began his career at Liverpool before bringing 16 years of top flight football to an end with Stoke City, ending a career which had included appearances at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups™.
The ex-striker now has a blossoming career in the media, and during this interview he discussed how he has adapted to moving away from the pitch, playing under the recently retired Sir Alex Ferguson and England's chances at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com: How do you rate the current England side? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Michael Owen: I don't think we're in a vintage era of English football, it's not our greatest team ever, but like every English team it's always competitive. I still believe we are far away from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, teams like that; they're all better than us at the moment. But we are very competitive. If we do go to the World Cup, I don't think anyone would enjoy playing against us. We're a good team, but I don't think it's the best team we've had in a long time.
Liverpool last won the league in 1990. What do you think are their chances of challenging this season?
It will be a very interesting Premier League this season. The big three teams we have in England, or the three that we thought would fight it out for the league, are the two Manchester teams and Chelsea, but there's a lot of question marks over those teams. All three have changed their manager: at Manchester City they've changed a lot of players, Chelsea are searching for somebody to score goals on a regular basis and Manchester United have started a little bit slower in the league. So then you look a little bit lower at Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, who are probably the next three. I don't think Liverpool will win the league this season, but if they can get into the Champions League places it would be a good season for them. They've started well but it would be very difficult for them to win the league.
I think I certainly need a break. You never know what the future holds, but I don't think I'll become a manager.
Having played under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, what do you think will have changed now he has left?
It was always going to change quite dramatically in many ways when someone has been there for over 25 years, then whoever was going to take the job was going to have big question marks put against them. It was going to be a change for everybody within the club and the players, having new training methods, so I think it was inevitable that there were going to be changes. I think Manchester United have appointed the right man in David Moyes, he has had a good career so far and has done fantastically well at Everton. I would think that in time he will prove to be a very good choice. They've had a bit of a slow start to the season, but they've had a difficult start to the season. I'm sure they'll get it right though and will still be one of the main challengers at the end of the season.
What was it like playing under Ferguson?
I was very honoured to play under a manager like him for three years. From outside you always think 'I wonder what he's like', because he's been so successful and you're playing for a different team you always wonder why are they so good, why is the manager so good. It was great to be asked by him to play for Manchester United and to then see his team talks, see how he manages people, to see how he delegates. It's a huge organisation and he delegates very well to professionals in different areas, so it was a real eye opener.
Were you ever intimidated by him?
More respectful towards him. It's quite interesting as when I first got into the dressing room and into the team, I said to a couple of the lads: 'He shouts a lot doesn't he, he loses his temper a lot'. But they shook their heads and said: 'No, you wanted to see him five years ago and ten years ago. He's very calm now'. I dread to think what he was like a long time ago. He demands a lot of respect, you're very disciplined playing for him, but to be that successful I think you have to command some respect.
How is it for you watching games like the Manchester derby now you are no longer involved?
It's obviously very different when you retire, and football is such that you finish at quite an early age. I'm 33 now and no longer playing football, which is strange, it doesn't happen in many other professions. It's difficult, for the first couple of months it was quite emotional not playing football any more, but everybody has to go through it at some point and in football unfortunately it happens at quite an early age.
Does coaching attract you as a career choice?
I think about it sometimes, and then I think not! [Laughs] There's lots of different things you can do at the end of your career. I have done my first two coaching badges and sometimes I do wake up and think I want to do it. It's such a big commitment, it is every single day of the year, and having just finished being a football player for so many years then I think I certainly need a break. You never know what the future holds, but I don't think I'll become a manager.
Fans sometimes struggle to comprehend why football can be a tough career choice at times. Can you explain some of the difficulties you encounter?
I think any career you do, the higher you go it becomes harder because everyone wants to beat you, to be the best. It's always tough, you have to be at the top of your game, you can't relax for one minute, pushing to be the best that you can. Whether that means sacrificing things everybody else can do, getting enough sleep, eating the right diet, whatever it might be. You have to have the talent, but you also have to have the attitude, commitment and be willing to make the sacrifices, although the rewards are great too. I don't think players complain, but it is a tough life.
The field is beginning to become clearer for the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013. Who do you think will take the title?
Well I think it's been another great year of football, there's so many good players, but the two players who always come to the top of your list are [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo. In my opinion they are by far the best two players in the world right now. Then there are some other players who have had some great success with their teams; Bayern Munich obviously spring to mind as one of the most successful teams over the last year, winning the Champions League and domestically winning the league and cup. So players like Franck Ribery are in with a shout, but I certainly think Messi and Ronaldo are the best two players. They've consistently been very good and I'd think it would be one of them two.