A deadly presence in the area, Michael Owen tells Inside United what’s required to be a top-class striker and reveals how he sharpened his predatory talent.
"A lot of great strikers seem to have instincts built into their make-up. There’s definitely an intuitive element that goes with being a striker – or at least being a certain type of striker. I’d say that I was an instinctive striker, as is somebody like Chicharito. But I wouldn’t have said Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov are as reliant on instinct as we are. It comes down to making the right runs and being in the right position at the right time. You always have to be ready; you have to be on your toes anticipating where the ball will be. As I said, some people seem to have a knack for that sort of play from an early age and, of course, years of playing as a striker helps hone that as well.
"When I was young, I obviously had a lot of pace, but that wouldn’t have got me anywhere without my instinctiveness in front of goal. The combination of those two attributes helped me get into Liverpool’s first team, but then I had to learn about other parts of the game – dropping deeper, holding up the ball, bringing others into play... I never got taught that as a kid. There are a lot of things you can learn on the way, but if you’ve got one or two potent weapons at the beginning it can give you a head start. From there, there’s a lot of hard work involved and you need to have the desire to improve.
"You can’t get anywhere with just one God-given talent. You can have one attribute that will give you an edge over others in a certain department – you might be very tall, very strong or very fast – but that’s not enough these days. You have to be able to transfer those natural talents into football situations. You have to work very hard.
"To be honest, I wouldn’t say I was a kid who used to analyse my own game and identify the areas I wasn’t so good at and then spend hours improving them by practising on my own. I just loved playing football and played as often as possible – I’d go to the park and shoot into the goals, but I wasn’t really making a conscious effort to improve any particular parts of my game which I felt needed work.
"I think the deeper understanding of the game came, in my case, just through experience. The ability to play different types of passes, to score different sorts of goals – it all came from testing stuff out on the pitch. I’d find myself one-on-one with the goalkeeper and try a certain type of finish. If it worked, I’d try it again the next time. If it didn’t, I’d try something else. So you teach yourself how to react to different situations, based on the situations you’ve been in previously. It’s a gradual process and you need a lot of luck too.
"Timing a run to get in behind a defender is all about trial and error. It’s a very difficult art to teach anybody. Coaches might tell you when to make your run and at what angle you should make it – diagonal runs are usually favoured because your momentum carries you towards the goal and you’re likely to stay onside a little longer – but every situation is different. You have to try things for yourself and work out what’s effective and what isn’t. The runs you make inside the penalty area – be they towards the near post or peeling off to the back post – are largely instinctive, although you can obviously learn from watching other players and watching the masters at work.
"You’ll see some strikers who linger behind a defender for nine-tenths of a second and then, just as the ball’s about to be crossed, they’ll make a quick movement and nip in front. I think it’s important to watch other strikers and combine that with your own experiments on the pitch. You can certainly develop that side of your game.
"It’s never been easy to make it as a professional footballer and it’s not getting any easier. These days football is very athletic as well as skilful – you need the right sort of body to cope with the rigours of the game. You also need to be quick, or you’ll be left behind. You need to be confident and calm on the ball, and have a good reading of the game. You need an awful lot to succeed. But don’t let that put you off!"