When Michael Owen Won the 2001 Ballon d’Or

In one of the surprising Ballon d’Or votes, Michael Owen won the award back in 2001. The striker lifted five trophies with Liverpool, although none of them were Premier League and Champions League. We look back at the process that resulted in the last Englishman winning the biggest individual accolade in world football.

Ballon d’Or

An annual football award by French news magazine France Football, Ballon d’Or is the most prestigious event in honouring individual brilliance. While there was time it was merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year, it’s now reverted to its original form.

Over the years, Ballon d’Or made plenty of changes from its initial shape. In 1995, they expanded to consider all players of any origin. And, in 2006, coaches and captains included to cast their votes alongside the usual format of journalist from UEFA nations.

After they consider the difficulty of judging two separate half seasons, Ballon d’Or shifted the timing into a football season from 2022. Lionel Messi is the player who won the most Ballon d’Ors, with 8 trophies to his name.

The 2001 Votes

Before coaches and captains of national teams granted the right to vote since 2007, the procedure only involved 51 football journalists from around Europe. 

The players who finished in the podium in the 2000 Ballon d’Or voting couldn’t make it into the top five this time around. Real Madrid duo Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane picked in the sixth and ninth places, respesectively.

Four players managed to collect more than 100 score in the final standings. Manchester United’s ace David Beckham missed out on a podium finish, but he had a score of 102, which would’ve been enough for that in the previous four years.

Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, Oliver Kahn finished in third place with a final score of 114. Real Madrid’s legend Raul was second with 140 as that’s only bettered by his future teammate Owen.

The England international was given a top-five slot by 46 of the 51 football journalists, including 19 first place vote. His final score stands at 176, the lowest number since Matthias Sammer beat Ronaldo by a single point in 1996.

 

RankNameTeamsScore
1Michael OwenLiverpool/England176
2RaulReal Madrid/Spain140
3Oliver KahnBayern Munich/Germany114

 

Owen before the Ballon d’Or season

Signing his first professional contract at his 17th birthday, Owen was a highly-rated youngster in English football. And the 1998 World Cup had everyone marvelled about his prospect as he scored a memorable goal against Argentina.

In his first full season at Liverpool, he won the Premier League Golden Boot and PFA Young Player of the Year awards. Soon after, he signed a new deal that saw him became the highest-paid British teenager.

He was also in contention for the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or awards that year as he finished fourth in both competitions. Despite a hamstring injury cut his season short in 1998-99, he was once again Premier League’s top scorer with 18 goals.

1999-2000 was also interrupted with hamstring injuries as he only started 22 league games. Liverpool missed out on Champions League qualification, which ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Reasons why Michael Owen won the Ballon d’Or

No Champions League meant Liverpool were in a European competition they had more chance to win the whole thing. And they did it in style. In a UEFA Cup (the old Europa League) final staged in Dortmund’s iconic stadium Westfalenstadion, Liverpool beat Alaves 5-4.

Owen had a remarkable ending of the 2000-01 league season as he netted seven and assisted two in the final four games. Less than two weeks before the Alaves game, he scored a hattrick against Newcastle United, one of his future clubs.

In their European adventures, Owen registered four goals, with the last coming in the quarter-final victory against Porto. He also netted both goals when Liverpool scrapped through Roma in the previous round with a 2-1 aggregate scoreline.

When Liverpool and Alaves played out a nine-goal thriller in 120 minutes, he assisted Steven Gerrard’s goal and won a penalty that had the English outfit led 3-1 at half-time.

His biggest involvement was in the FA Cup triumph, however. Owen’s iconic brace helped Liverpool came from behind as they beat Arsenal to complete a domestic cup double. He was an unused sub when they lifted League Cup by beating Birmingham City in February.

The three titles came after a six-year trophy drought in Liverpool. Gerard Houllier’s side added two more silverwares at the start of the 2001-02 season. Owen scored in both the European Super Cup clash against Bayern Munich and Community Shield duel versus Manchester United.

He also had a strong start in all competitions as he scored in all his first Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup games that season. Weeks before the Ballon d’Or voting takes place, Owen scored in five consecutive Premier League games.

With no international tournament in 2001, Owen still managed to find the net six times from five competitive appearances for Three Lions. Half of that attributed to his unforgettable hat-trick against Germany in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers in Olympiastadion, Munich.

As Liverpool became the first English team to win five trophies in a calendar year, it was given that one of their star players will have a good chance of collecting indivdual accolades. And that previliage was fallen into the main striker.

Owen won both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year at the end of 2001. The last Englishman to win Ballon d’Or, Kevin Keegan, has done it before Owen’s birth. And there hasn’t been anyone from the origin of football to repeat that success ever since.

More so in Spain, Raul was the frontrunner to win the individual award. And Owen wasn’t confident about his chances. He showed his honesty by expecting “nothing more than a top-five finish” from the Ballon d’Or cast. He first heard the news when Liverpool prepared for a Champions League game away at Olimpico against AS Roma. Not only that, it was precisely when the squad were about to enter the pitch for a pre-match warm-up.

After losing the opening game to Barcelona in the Second Round of the group stage, Liverpool were under pressure against Fabio Capello’s Roma. But it was a surreal moment for the guy who was about to turn 23 in a week’s time.

As Owen recalled the moment some 15 years later, there was also Houllier’s health problem besides the importance of the game ahead of their preparation. But, Phil Thompson, who deputized for the coach who undergone heart surgery, ordered Owen to return to the changing room an hour before kick-off.

Phil only told Owen that Houllier is waiting for him on the phone. Bewildered by what could be a such an important topic ahead of the big duel, Owen finally finds out that his coach wanted to break the good news to him.

Houllier passed the message and informed him to not tell anyone as all would be revealed in the event. Owen summarized the incident as “… strange but, at the same time, fantastic”.

Liverpool dropped further points that night with a goalless draw, but as promised, Owen picked up his Ballon d’Or only four days after his 23rd birthday. On the night of the big event, keeping true to his promise, the English international emphasized that he only knew about being shortlisted to the final five candidates.

His competitors’ form

Raul

The 2000-01 La Liga season was one of the best in Raul’s long-serving Real Madrid career. He won La Liga’s top-scorer award for second and last time with 24 goals. And he was picked as Spain’s Best Player of the Year.

Real Madrid, who had three players in the top-ten Ballon d’Or finish, were also La Liga champions for the 2000-01 season. Raul contributed to Real making it into the Champions League semi-finals with seven goals and five assists.

In the end, the legendary Spanish striker finished runners-up in the Ballon d’Or ranking. That remained his biggest finish in world’s biggest individual showdown. Raul and Owen later played together in Santiago Bernabeu.

Oliver Kahn  

The Titan was influential for Bayern Munich’s dramatic Bundesliga and Champions League triumphs in the 2000-01 season. The shot-stopper inspired his team when there was not much optimism to snatch Meisterschale from Schalke in the death.

And he was the penalty shootout star in the Champions League final victory against Valencia. When the going gets tough, Kahn was the right man to guide his herd.

The goalkeeper finished third in the Ballon d’Or ranking, a feat he repeated the next year when Germany reached World Cup final, against all odds. Kahn worked as Bayern Munich’s CEO for two years before his melodramatic sacking.

Michael Owen After Winning the Ballon d’Or

Since his first full campaign, Owen finished Liverpool’s top-scorer in each of his seven seasons at the club. Even if injuries limited his appearances, he was always the man for the big nights.

But, after rumours circulating for years, he finally left Liverpool to join long-time suitors Real Madrid in 2004. Despite a double figure goal return, Owen only played one season in Spanish’s capital city.

On his return to England, Owen played for Newcastle United and Manchester United, with his first Premier League title secured with the latter. The fact that he played for those two clubs didn’t set too well with Liverpool faithfuls, however.

But injuries were the biggest issues for not realizing his potential of competing for more Ballon d’Ors. His last international tournament was the 2006 World Cup. Only 27 at the time, he had fewer minutes than Peter Crouch in Germany’s soil.

Previous winners from England

Stanley Matthews (1956)

The inaugural Ballon d’Or winner was an Englishman by the name of Stanley Matthews. Knowing for his dazzling dribbling techniques and blistering pace, Matthews was one of the star faces of the England team that used to tour the world.

The then-Blackpool wide player finished above goal-getters Alfredo Stefano and Raymond Kopa of Real Madrid when Ballon d’Or introduced to the game in 1956. Di Stefano climbed to the top the next year, while Englishmen Billy Wright and Duncan Edwards finished in the podium.

Bobby Charlton (1966)

Although the 1965-66 club season ended with Manchester United left empty-handed, the graceful leader and artist Charlton played a massive role in England’s only World Cup triumph.

For many, he was busy with the head-to-head clash with a certain Franz Beckenbauer in England’s 4-2 final win against West Germany. And the World Cup glory eclipsed him ahead of Portugal’s maverick Eusebio and Die Kaiser.

Bobby finished runners-up in successive years right after his 1966 Ballon d’Or accolade.

Kevin Keegan (1978, 1979)

After six years with Liverpool, Kevin Keegan fled the country to join Hamburger SV. It was a strange transfer as he won England’s First Division and European Cup with the Merseyside club in his final season.

In terms of club success, Keegan only won one Bundesliga title in his spell in Germany, but he returned home with two Ballon d’Or awards. In a time only European players were eligible to compete, Keegan’s form for both club and country shone the brightest.

Keegan also had a second-place Ballon d’Or finish from his time at Liverpool. 

Michael Owen stats 2001

CompetitionGamesGoalsAssists
Premier League29184
Champions League520
UEFA Cup731
FA Cup531
League Cup100
UEFA Super Cup111
Community Shield110
Champions League Qualifiers131
2002 World Cup Qualifiers560
England Friendlies301
Total58379

 

Trophies won with Liverpool by Michael Owen in 2001

  • UEFA Cup 2000-01
  • FA Cup 2000-01
  • League Cup 2000-01
  • UEFA Super Cup 2001
  • Charity Shield 2001

Individual awards won by Michael Owen in 2001

  • Ballon d’Or 2001
  • World Soccer World Player of the Year 2001
  • ESM Team of the Year 2000-01
  • Onze d’Agent 2001