The England and Liverpool football legend Michael Owen came to Pakistan on January 25, and particularly in Karachi on January 26, for the ground-breaking ceremony of country’s first soccer city at the NED University, Karachi.
He arrived as the brand ambassador of Global Soccer Ventures (GSV), and the stadium is a part of the 10-year agreement of investment in NED grounds of worth $12million. It will also serve as the playing field for the franchise-based Pakistan Football League, while the venture has linked up with Irish Club St Patrick’s Athletic and their coaches to carry on a nation-wide talent hunt in 10 cities simultaneously, with 20 players to be selected who will then go on to train in Ireland.
The GSV programmme is now happening under the umbrella of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Kamyab Jawan Sports Drive, which also saw Owen meet the PM himself, pay a visit to the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters and meeting with the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Jawed Bajwa.
Owen was kind of enough to answer the questions sent to him by The Express Tribune.
Tribune: Who has been most impressive young footballer you have seen recently?
Owen: I think the one player that I’m really excited about for the future is Phil Folden of Man City. I think he is an exceptional player; he’s got that class about him that you don’t see often. He is a bit different to everybody else, so I expect him to become a world class player in the years to come.
Tribune: What are England’s chances at the 2022 FIFA World Cup?
Owen: Well, of course, we have a chance. I wouldn’t say we are the favourites. There’s other great teams around the world, of course, France are very strong. Brazil, Argentina are always strong. There’s Portugal. So yeah, there are lots of very good teams, but I would think that we would definitely go there with a chance and we’ve got some good young players, we’ve got a good manager, we’ve got good team spirit and we are getting better all the time. So, we’ve got a good chance and it is something to look forward to at the end of the year.
Tribune: What has been your favourite sport/football related book that may have inspired you?
Owen: My autobiography (chuckles). I used to collect sticker books when I was young, but I didn’t really read any autobiographies or anything else like that. I was just a real keen football enthusiast, and when there was a World Cup or something like that I would always try to buy stickers to fill my book. That’s how you learn about different names, different people within the game. That’s probably my initial beginning into the game.
Tribune: In your opinion what’s the best formation in football?
Owen: Formations pretty much depend on the players that you’ve got available. I always thought when we were with England in our golden generation,we were playing the wrong formation. I thought we were very good at centre half and very good at centre midfield but we tend to play 4-4-2 all the time. We never could get our best players in their best positions. I mean playing with someone like Scholes, Gerard and Lampard as a three would have been amazing. I think if you play a 3-5-2 and if you play it well it is a very difficult system to play against. I think that’s a very strong formation, however, playing three at the back is a bit like we call it marmite, you either love it or you hate it, and if you make it work then it is a great system. But some players find it difficult to adjust to playing three at the back. If I was a manager and I was playing safe to start with, I would probably play 4-2-3-1 at the moment, but if I have the right players then I would like to play 3-5-2.
Tribune: What has been your favourite stadium to play at?
Owen: I think Anfield on European nights is a special place. It has seen so many historic games so I think that would have to be my favourites. I mean the Bernabéu, the Camp Nou, they’ve been some great stadiums I’ve played in, but I think Anfield is my favourite.
Tribune: Who has been your favourite to ever don the number 10 jersey and why?
Owen: Well number 10 jersey. I think obviously there have been some great number 10s; Pele, Maradona, Messi, some amazing number 10s. I mean when I was growing up John Barnes was the number 10 at Liverpool and I thought he was just the most incredible player. It was such an honour when he handed me the shirt to carry on that legacy, so I would have to give a special mention to him. He was one of the world’s best.
Tribune: Which club do you feel most attached to?
Owen: Liverpool. I came through the ranks of LFC, joined them early, always wanted to play in the first team, it was my dream and I played all my best football at LFC or most of my best football at Liverpool. I was at my peak when I was at the club so LFC would be who I regard as my team.
Tribune: Your best-ever performance and why?
Owen: I would probably say the (2001) FA Cup final. Coming from 1-0 behind against Arsenal to beat them 2-1 and scoring two goals in the last five minutes to win the FA Cup. That was against the great team of Arsenal, the Invincibles era, and to beat them in the Cup final, and I always dreamt of winning the FA Cup. When I was a boy the FA cup meant everything to me, so to score the winning goal in that competition was probably the best match I have ever played in.
Tribune: Any message for Pakistani footballers, especially women?
Owen: Women’s football is getting more and more popular around the world. While I’ve been out here, I’ve seen women play and understand the game better and better all the time. So it is very encouraging that women’s football is now very popular and I hope that it continues to grow. I think it is important that everybody recognises that it is a very good sport and it should be played by all. I look forward to watching Pakistani women’s team in the future.
Tribune: What has been your favourite thing about Karachi so far?
Owen: The people over here in Pakistan. The people have been very welcoming, very kind, I’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve had great three days and I look forward to coming back. But I think if it was one thing I would say it is the people have been really kind.
Tribune: What memory will you be taking home with you?
Owen: Well I think the culture you know. Driving through different places we’ve been, to see dignitaries, (GHQ) in Islamabad, we’ve actually been here in Karachi seeing the backstreets, where football, in Lyari, is played. So we’ve seen possibly some of the extremes and you are never going to see the whole of Pakistan in three days, but I think the culture has been really important for me to see.