How Michael Owen became Ballon d’Or winner in 2001 with Liverpool

In December 2001, Michael Owen became the first English player to win the Ballon d’Or in 22 years, since Kevin Keegan secured the prestigious accolade in consecutive years, in 1978 and 1979. 

For Owen, it capped off a remarkable run of success at Liverpool, having won five trophies in the calendar year and all within a few months.

In the 2000/01 season, the Reds secured a unique treble, winning the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup, known today as the Europa League.

That was followed by a Charity Shield win and a UEFA Super Cup success with Owen front and centre in a trophy-laden spell for the Reds. 

It culminated for him with the individual European award but it is not quite the same Ballon d'Or that we know today, and the subject of a virtual battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in recent years. 

Ballon d'Or Background

The original Ballon d'Or, from 1956 to 2009, was organised by the renowned France Football magazine and awarded to the European Footballer of the Year.

Only European players representing European clubs were eligible to receive the prize, meaning that superstars like Pele and Diego Maradona were not invited to the proverbial party.

That changed in 1995, when AC Milan’s George Weah, a Liberian and the current President of the African nation, became the first non-European recipient, although he was recognised for his exploits in Italy.

Then in 2010, the Ballon d’Or was merged with the World Player of the Year award to adopt official patronage and became the FIFA Ballon d’Or. 

This move created a de facto undisputed trophy for the best player in the world.

Michael Owen's rise

Michael Owen

Photo by Icon Sport

Owen was born in Chester, on 14 December 1979.  He rapidly progressed through the ranks of Liverpool’s youth academy to make his first-team debut at the tender age of just 17.

He scored on his Premier League debut in May 1997 in a 2-1 defeat for the Reds against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. From that moment, he never looked back and would go on to have a stellar career for club and country, including spells at Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Stoke City.

Owen was capped 89 times and scored 40 goals for the Three Lions, putting him in sixth place in the list of all-time top scorers for England, behind Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves.

Amongst his many notable moments for England, Owen scored a beautiful goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, his true breakthrough moment and secured a hat-trick against Germany in Munich, in qualification for the 2002 World Cup. 

Impact

In his first full season for Liverpool in the Premier League, the diminutive striker finished as joint-top scorer with 18 goals. He was the Anfield side’s top goal-scorer from 1997 to 2004, despite a recurring hamstring issue which prevented him from hitting even greater heights.

In the 2000/01 season, under Gerard Houllier, Liverpool came third in the Premier League, behind Manchester United and Arsenal but the cups were Red all over. 

The first to be secured was the League Cup but Owen was an unused substitute in a victory on penalties over Birmingham City. 

He made his mark on a superb FA Cup triumph three months later with a late double strike to secure a 2-1 win over Arsenal. 

Continental glory was also secured with the 2001 UEFA Cup, in a 5-4 golden goal extra time success over Spanish side Alaves.

The trophies kept on coming at the start of the following season, with a 2-1 Charity Shield win over Manchester United, with Owen scoring what turned out to be the winner. 

He repeated the same feat in the 2001 UEFA Super Cup final, in a 3-2 win over Bayern Munich, picking up the man of the match award in the process. 

The glory run reached its climax in December when the Ballon d’Or was awarded to the Liverpool striker to mark his significant form in the Premier League, in Europe, and for England.

He topped the poll ahead of Raul, Oliver Kahn, David Beckham, Francesco Totti, Luis Figo, Rivaldo, Andriy Shevchenko, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane to emphasise just how highly he was rated and the level that he reached that season.


Experienced author and football writer Graeme Hanna, has an eternal passion for Rangers and is a long-term season ticket holder at the club.