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EXCLUSIVE - Michael Owen: “I believe Bellingham’s scoring production will continue”

The English legend talked in an exclusive interview with Managing Madrid.

Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

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Former Real Madrid striker and English legend Michael Owen spoke exclusively to Managing Madrid during an event hosted by BoyleSports, where he also spoke about Premier League betting.

Owen is the last British player to win the Ballon D’Or award in 2001, when he beat Real Madrid legend Raul for the ultimate individual prize in world football. Their paths crossed in 2004, when Owen signed for Real Madrid and joined a team known as the galácticos.

In this interview, Owen discussed his year playing in the Spanish capital while also sharing his thoughts on Real Madrid star and fellow countryman Jude Bellingham.

Lucas Navarrete - Managing Madrid: “Thank you for doing this, Michael, we’re going to start by talking a little about your tenure in Madrid. I thought that you were quite successful with the role you were given, but obviously maybe even yourself and some of the fans of the Premier League and International football expected more, not necessarily from you, but maybe a longer tenure or a more consistent role. What do you think prevented you from getting that role and getting those minutes that were expected as a former Ballon d’Or winner?”

Michael Owen: Yeah, I mean, obviously I had a great time in Madrid. I absolutely loved the experience. I think at the time, I played quite a lot in that season that I was there. Lots of people think I was, you know, I didn’t do very much, but I think I played quite a lot. I certainly was involved in 38 or 40 games. It was a good number. And I think I started more games than I came on as sub. So it was successful in my eyes in terms of my performances and the goals I scored, while my relationship with the fans was great.

So I really enjoyed it. I think at the end of the season, Madrid were wanting to buy more players. Baptista, Robinho, both just signed. And the other thing is I was probably one of the most sellable players at the time, because obviously the market back in England, lots of teams were possibly going to want to buy me. So I also knew that Madrid wanted to buy Sergio Ramos and I think that they needed to raise some money at the time. The easiest player to sell was probably me, especially as we still had Raul, Ronaldo and Morientes, and we had signed some more attacking players. The president was very nice to me. I mean, he said to me, “listen, we’re happy with you, we’ve really enjoyed your first year and you’ve done well. But just to let you know, there’s two or three English clubs that have come in and want to buy you. And you don’t have to go. We want you to stay. But if you wanted to go back home, then it’s your choice, basically”. So it was only a short stay, but I enjoyed it. As I say, scored lots of goals, played with some great players, met lots of friends. And yeah, when I look back, I think maybe it would have been perfect to stay another year or two. But I’m proud to be able to say that I played in a great team and a great club with great fans. And it was great. Absolutely.

Real Madrid vs Albacete
Owen celebrates a goal with Ronaldo Nazario.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Lucas Navarrete: What do you think happened during that Galáctico era, not only in your year, but during that Galáctico era that didn’t allow Madrid to have the success expected from a team with so much collective talent? What do you think happened? What mistakes were made during those years?

Michael Owen: Well, I think the main thing that happened is that there was another team that were absolutely unbelievable at the time. Barcelona were a great team, of course. And over the years, we’ve always seen it. You know, Real Madrid have dominance for periods. Barcelona have dominance for certain periods.

And I think around that era Frank Rijkaard and then Pep Guardiola, it was an era at Barcelona that was just incredible. So it’s not that we had all the great players and we played badly. I mean, we came second in the league. We won a lot. We were obviously a very good team, but Barcelona were just better at the time. I mean, we lost at Camp Nou 3-0, but we beat Barcelona 4-2 at the Bernabéu. And obviously, there wasn’t a huge amount of points between the two teams. But I think Barcelona at the time were just were just a very, very good team.

Lucas Navarrete: Since you’re the last English player to win the Ballon d’Or and Real Madrid now have a big Englishman who might have the potential to win the award, what do you think of Bellingham? Did you expect this kind of performance and this kind of level from him? Do you think he’s taking maybe his level up a notch since he joined Madrid? Do you think he has what it takes to win the Ballon d’Or?

Michael Owen: Well, because he’s only so young, then of course, you’re always hoping that he keeps moving up the levels. But he’s always been a great player. We’ve always been very proud that he’s an Englishman and he’s gone abroad and he’s gone outside his comfort zone to move to Germany, to play minutes, to play in the Champions League. And from Madrid’s point of view, that’s worked perfectly for them because he’s obviously gained all those experiences so young in life and now they’re going to get the best years of him. He’s of course capable of winning the biggest honors in the world. Just by being around Madrid, he’s got even more chance of winning things like Champions League and La Liga titles and of course, if you win those competitions and you’re one of the star players, then you’ve got a very good chance of winning a Ballon d’Or which is obviously a great achievement for him. So yeah, I love him, I think he’s amazing, I think he’s a great player. I also think he’s a great person. You know, he’s very likable, he’s a happy person.

Bellingham celebrates a goal with the fans at the Bernabeu.
Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Lucas Navarrete: Very mature as well.

Michael Owen: Yes, and he wants to be a part of the team, he wants to learn the language, he’s just a good guy. So I think Madrid have done very well to get him and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.

Lucas Navarrete: You were talking about how his years in Germany have helped him. Let’s elaborate a little bit on the difference between the Premier League and La Liga and why do you think some of the British players get this reputation of maybe not adapting all that well to the style of play in La Liga. Why do you think that happens or do you think that the reputation is actually unfair?

Michael Owen: Yeah, well, I 100% think it’s unfair. I mean, you look at the players from Britain, you look at myself, I think I adapted absolutely fine, scored a lot of goals. I had no problem adapting. David Beckham had a successful time in Madrid, he adapted well. Gareth Bale has scored some of the most incredible and famous goals that have ever been scored in world football. I mean, and Jude Bellingham is already showing that he has adapted well.

I can’t see one player that hasn’t. So I would have thought the question would be different. Because it’s not just you! Lots of people have said it to me. I thought the question would be quite the opposite. Why do English players adapt so well to Madrid? Because look at those four examples, they’re all positive.

Maybe before that, I don’t really know, but I believe all the English players that have been to Madrid have been quite successful. So I find it a strange, strange thing.

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final
Gareth Bale scores Real Madrid’s game-winning goal in the Champions League Final against Liverpool
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Lucas Navarrete: Yeah, the reputation is still definitely there. Maybe it has to do more with the language or the lifestyle. I personally don’t really agree with that reputation overall. And sometimes it might have actually prevented Madrid from getting involved in other deals like Harry Kane this past summer.

Michael Owen: But I also think that’s just not England to Spain. At the end of the day, we are from the country we’re from and wherever you go is going to be different and wherever you go, you’ve got to try to adapt. So if you ask Spanish players that come to the Premier League they’ll say “oh, the weather’s not as nice and the food is not as nice”. And it might be a struggle for them to adapt as well.

There’s lots of players that have struggled to adapt. So I don’t think that’s England or wherever it is in the world. That’s just life moving from one country to another is different. But I think the examples that we’ve already spoke about have all adapted fine.”

Lucas Navarrete: As a goalscorer yourself, did you actually see this kind of production from from Bellingham from a scoring perspective? He was obviously considered a great player, but these scoring numbers he’s delivering are quite crazy, especially considering he’s an attacking midfielder. Did you actually see him having the skills needed to put together this kind of production as a goalscorer?

Michael Owen: Well, I think goal-scoring from a midfielder’s point of view depends on the position that you play. So if Bellingham was playing in a 4-4-2 and he was one of two midfield players, then I can’t imagine he would score these types of goals because he would have other priorities. He would be one on one and would’ve to do defensive job and everything else. What I think Madrid have done particularly well, and Carlo Ancelotti in particular, is notice and realize how good he is going forward and put him in a position that is normally saved for very, very special talents. And straight away, they’ve reduced his responsibility from a defensive point of view and allowed him to play in a more advanced midfield role. We used to see it with someone like Frank Lampard who used to score lots and lots of goals from midfield, but it’s because he had Makelele and Obi-Mikel and other players behind him. He was allowed to go forward. And I think what Madrid have done very well is recognize that he is such a threat when he goes forward, then give him that freedom and then he will score even more goals.

So I think it’s been nice to see. I didn’t expect him to score so many goals because I didn’t expect him to be trusted in a very, very nice position for him now. I mean, he can pick and choose when he goes and arrives late in the box. He’s obviously technically very good and he’s a good finisher. I don’t think it’s a small period of time where he’s going forward. I think it will continue.

Lucas Navarrete: So you think he can sustain it?

Michael Owen: If he plays in this position that he’s playing currently, yes.

Lucas Navarrete: Thank you for your time, Michael.

Michael Owen: My pleasure!

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