Michael Owen believes Phil Foden could have the same overwhelming impact for England this summer as he did during the 1998 World Cup.
The Liverpool striker was just 18 when he announced himself on the world stage by scoring against Romania and then memorable against Argentina at the tournament held in France.
Now Foden, 21, fresh off a stellar title-winning season with Manchester City, is leading an exciting crop of young talent in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 roster.
Phil Foden is backed to shine for England at the upcoming European Championship
Michael Owen, who entered the world stage in 1998, believes Foden can make a big impact
Teenager Owen scored a sensational individual goal against Argentina in the round of 16
As the Three Lions prepare for a tournament culminating in the semi-finals and final in a familiar setting at Wembley, players like Foden, Mason Mount, Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish offer a plethora of creative options.
Owen, who has scored 40 goals in 89 appearances for England, doesn’t believe they compare to the much-vaunted ‘Golden Generation’ he was part of, but they could be much more successful.
“I think Foden is special, he’s different. I think we’re talking about someone who could be a great talent, he could be world class,” Owen said.
His strength is the way he moves, his first touch. It’s all effortless, the way he slides into the game. Many people take a touch and then move. Everything he does is so easy on the eye.
“He has a real speed that people don’t even notice because he doesn’t look like a speedster. His attitude, his mentality towards the game shows that he is just a born footballer.
“His decision-making, his ability to score goals, assist goals, he exudes class and sometimes a player comes along every generation.
England prepared for the tournament with back-to-back 1-0 wins over Austria and Romania
Gareth Southgate is blessed with a talented group of English players at the tournament
“I was one, Steven Gerrard was one 20 years ago, then Wayne Rooney came along, and I think Phil Foden could be another one.”
Owen speaks from experience when he says that Foden and the other young England players will not be shocked by the added pressure of tournament football. Indeed, it is the success at such competitions that is life-changing.
“The advantage of a young player in these tournaments is that you are absolutely fearless,” he said.
“You’ve never had a setback in your life, you’ve been the best in under-10, under-12, under-14, under-16, under-18, you’ve broken all records. You’re just a damn good player.
“So there are no scars and you just go out and think you’re the best and that’s the advantage of being young.
“From Foden’s point of view he has no scars, he believes in himself, he just reached the Champions League final, he thinks he is one of the best players in the world and rightly so.
Foden won the Premier League title with Manchester City after an excellent season
Foden scored twice against Iceland in the UEFA Nations League to open his England account
“Yeah, he’ll sharpen his focus and be a little bit more nervous because it’s England, because it’s a first major tournament.
“But then you think, well, I’ve had a lot of things in front of me – my Man City debut, my Champions League debut, big games and I’ve always succeeded.
“The only difference is off the field. If he does well – and we can discuss that after the tournament – his life will change. It was a life changer for me.
“What I did on the field in 1998 at the World Cup was no different from what I had done when I won the (Premier League) Golden Boot in my first year at the age of 17. I went to the tournament because I had already succeeded.
“In retrospect, how that can change you as a person is another question, and we saw Gazza in 1990, we saw a lot.
‘But the fieldwork isn’t even a question. He’ll be all right.’
Owen (front row – right) was part of the much-vaunted English ‘Golden Generation’ of the early 21st century. Back row from left to right: Paul Robinson, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch, Frank Lampard. Front row from left to right: Joe Cole, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole and Owen prepare for Paraguay for the 2006 World Cup
But despite high expectations, Owen’s tournaments with England were always disappointing
Most of Owen’s career in England saw him take the field alongside David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney.
But this exceptional group never turned their talent into tournament success with three consecutive quarter-final exits in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have that generation of players again and I don’t care if we win a tournament,” Owen said.
“An England squad can’t be as good as what we had then. It was just a crazy generation and everyone refutes that by saying “you didn’t win a damn thing!”
“But I think this is the best team we’ve had in ten or twelve years. I think it is improving, the extra year with Covid may have benefited the England team.
“Like Foden, Grealish, Bellingham, you could name five or six players who are better than they were a year ago. None of the players are over the hill and it’s the best chance we’ve had in a good couple of years.”
Chelsea’s Mason Mount enters the European Championship this month as the winner of the Champions League
Jack Grealish is certainly a player who can offer England some x-factor during Euro 2020
Jude Bellingham (right) is only 17, but already feels right at home in the English set-up
England are favorites to top a group that includes Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic, but their last-16 draw will likely pit them against one of France, Germany or Portugal.
A recent survey by booking.com, the official accommodation and attraction booking partner of UEFA EURO 2020, surprisingly found that 61 percent of English football fans would rather see rivals Germany win the tournament than skip their next holiday post Covid.
But Owen says England shouldn’t be put off by the prospect of facing one of those teams.
“If we win the group and play against Portugal or France, I think it’s a hundred thousand if we win. If we play against Germany, I think we will be favourites.’
Booking.com proves we are more friends than rivals at UEFA EURO 2020™ #RivalsReUnited