Masterclass: Michael Owen
The former Liverpool and England marksman shares his blueprint on how to create the perfect goalscorer
Hi Michael. Do you believe goalscorers are born or made? I think it’s a bit of both, to be honest. To be a goalscorer you have to be a certain type of person. You’ve got to be selfish and have an obsessive streak, which are both personality traits I believe you’re born with. Improving your goalscoring is all about quality practice and having the chance to work on your finishing in matches over and over again.
What’s the best way for a forward to develop their finishing? I have a clear idea about how to create a world-class goalscorer. In the modern game, a lot of young players are moved up an age group in their academies to challenge them. They’ll still be good in that age group, so they’ll be pushed up again. Eventually it gets too difficult for them – they don’t have enough chances in front of goal to practise their craft. If you only get one opportunity per game, you’ll favour your tried-and-tested finish every time and never build a repertoire.
When I was at school, I’d get about 15 chances per game and often score nine goals. I quickly figured out the finishes that worked well for me and those that didn’t. But to do that, you need to have loads and loads of chances to practise different goalscoring situations until it’s instinctive. You can only do that if you’re continually playing at a level that allows you to dominate and have opportunities in front of goal.
Would you say academies produce as many goalscorers today compared to when you rose through Liverpool’s ranks in the ’90s? No. Since Jose Mourinho bought Didier Drogba (right) in 2004 and Chelsea started to win titles with a lone striker, the position has changed completely. The stereotypical centre-forward now is a big lad who can do everything. When I was coming through, there were twice as many strikers because everyone played with two guys up top. We would practise a lot of combination play and operating with a big man and a little man. It didn’t matter what shape or size you were, you could be a striker. These days, if you’re not a certain size, there’s no point being a striker because you won’t be able to play that role. I’d find it really hard coming through now if I had to keep winning high balls, hold the ball up and do everything.
Which types of finishes did you enjoy applying the most? If you look back over my career, I rarely rounded the goalkeeper, as I just didn’t like that finish. I tried it dozens of times when I was a kid and it didn’t come off too often. I soon discovered that I liked either curling the ball into the corner or opening up my body and side-footing it home from a certain angle. I also used to be good at pushing the ball in front of me, so the goalkeeper thought I’d taken a heavy touch and would come off his line. But it was actually deliberate, as I knew that I could use my pace to beat him to the ball and then dink it over him as he raced out and dived at my feet. If I was one-on-one with the goalkeeper, I’d usually try to position him where I wanted him to be. I always liked to run onto the ball at an angle, because I could move the keeper and then open up the space to slot it past him and into the bottom corner.
Can you learn to keep a cool head in one-on-one situations? Yes. You need to have experienced many one-on-one situations to develop that calmness when you’re through on goal. A very good example of this is Mohamed Salah’s goal for Liverpool in last season’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at Manchester City. Before that goal, I had him down as a player who missed quite a few chances and didn’t always pick the right finish. However, the more opportunities he’s been given, the better he’s become. He looked like an ice-cold finisher against Man City. If you’re a top striker, your heart rate should slow down in these situations. Salah took an extra second and waited for the keeper to go down, before dinking the ball over him. That tells me his heart rate is decreasing in one-on-one situations.
You scored so many of your goals from through-balls – what would you do to exploit space? If I didn’t have the ball, I’d avoid filling an area that I wanted to exploit. I’d drop off a little bit so the defensive line would move higher and I could run in behind. I wanted defenders to think that I just wanted the ball to feet, but really I was sucking them in so that I could spin and burst away. The quickest route to goal is in a straight line from A to B, but you will probably keep getting caught offside by doing that. You need to position yourself between the full-back and centre-back, then bend the run and get the speed up.
Once you’re in that position, keep your head up. Too many players don’t look up until the keeper’s only a few feet away. You’re in possession of the ball, which means you’re in control of the situation. Angle your run so you move the keeper exactly where you want him to be, and then you can pick your spot.
Owen was speaking on behalf of BT Sport
“I’d deliberately push the ball in front of me so the keeper came o his line. I knew I could beat him to it and then dink it over him”