Owen is ready for big time

Liverpool's teenage striking sensation Michael Owen today told of his determination to break into the Reds first team - and do so sooner rather than later. The youngster whose goals brought the FA Youth Cup to Anfield last season spearheads Liverpool's defence of the trophy in tonight's third round tie against Manchester United - victims of an Owen hat-trick 12 months ago. But already he has his sights set on an even greater personal prize than a second Youth Cup winners' medal. Owen celebrated his 17th birthday last month by signing a professional contract and being handed a place in Roy Evans' senior squad. And now the new owner of the Reds' number 18 jersey wants to try it for size in the Premiership.

Owen, who shattered Ian Rush's junior scoring records with Deeside schools, has fired 30 goals in 25 games so far this season. And he is confident that he can reproduce that form at the top level. Speaking exclusively to the Echo in his first ever interview, he said of his first team dream: "I'd say I am ready - because I want to be ready! I want to play in the first team but that's out of my hands because it's up to the staff here. I don't know if I will get a chance this season, but I hope I do."

Owen, whose father Terry played for Everton and Chester City, has not been given a senior shirt just to make up the numbers. The Reds rate the youngster from Hawarden as the best attacker of his age in the country and were keen to include his name in the first team pool as quickly as possible. And Director of Youth Steve Heighway backs Owen's view that he can step up to the big time now. He said: "He is ready for whatever you throw at him; nothing fazes Michael Owen. He's ready." I have no fears about him and if the manager wants a recommendation from me, Michael gets it."

And Owen added: "Hearing that I was going to be given a squad number was probably the best news I've had since I've been playing. It was a big surprise because I didn't expect to get it that early. The manager told me on the day I was signing and presented me with a shirt with my name and number on, which I've got at home now."

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