Michael Owen - European footballer of the Year
A disbelieving Michael Owen achieved yesterday what no Briton had managed in almost a quarter of a century when the Liverpool and England striker was named European footballer of the year.
But while Owen celebrated, David Beckham reflected on a double disappointment as he missed out on both the European honour and, agonisingly, the ultimate accolade, world player of the year. The England captain lost out as world No1 by finishing second, 12 points behind Luis Figo of Portugal. For Owen, earning personal honour as well as further recognition for Liverpool in the club's trophy-laden year, joining a select band of Britons "seemed unbelievable" even though "I knew that I was one of the five players in question". He added: "I would like to thank the team and all the staff, everyone who is involved with Liverpool. It's their award too." Owen, 22 last Friday, is the first Englishman since Kevin Keegan, winner in 1978 and 1979, to take the European crown and the first to do so as a Liverpool player, since Keegan's triumphs both came in his time in Germany with Hamburg.
Stanley Matthews, in the inaugural year (1956), Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best are the only other Britons to win the Ballon d'Or, presented by France Football magazine to the winner chosen by a poll of 51 European journalists. Owen felt "extremely proud" to have joined an illustrious list of continental and British footballers. "Marco van Basten won it three times. Michel Platini as well. I am proud to add my name to those of Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Rivaldo, Bobby Charlton [and] Kevin Keegan."
The Liverpool player (176 points) beat off the formidable challenge of Raul, the Real Madrid and Spain forward (140), with Oliver Kahn (114) third. The Bayern Munich and Germany goalkeeper suffered painfully of course at the feet of the winner after Owen's memorable hat-trick in England's extraordinary 5-1 win in Munich in September. It has been a memorable month for Owen, who only days earlier became the first Englishman to be named World Soccer magazine's world player of the year, an award inaugurated in 1982.
These are unhappier days for Beckham, as a combination of loss of form and injury has seen the England captain left out of Manchester United's last four games. And yesterday, in a lavish ceremony in Zurich, he had to stand and watch as Figo received the plaudits as Fifa's world player of 2001.
Last year the inspirational Portuguese forward finished second to France's Zinedine Zidane, now a Real club-mate, but won the European accolade now claimed by Owen, who was also eighth in yesterday's world contest. Beckham, on the back of his inspirational captaincy of England, crowned by his sensational free-kick against Greece in October, had been widely tipped to become the first Briton to win the world crown.
He had finished runner-up in 1999, United's treble-winning year, so it was even more galling for the 26-year-old Beckham to finish runner-up again, especially as Figo (250) triumphed by such a nar- row margin in a poll conducted worldwide among 130 national coaches. Beckham finished a distance ahead of the third-placed Raul (96), another two-time loser in the awards stakes.
Beckham, resplendent in a pin-striped black suit with a satin collar, striped black shirt and dark tie, hid his disappointment well. "It is just an honour to be standing here with these people," he said. He finished fourth in the European race.
For the first time Fifa also made an award for the best woman player of the year, which went to Mia Hamm of the United States. She has made 219 appearances for her country, scoring 129 goals, and plays for Washington Freedom in the new US women's professional league.
1956 Stanley Matthews
(Blackpool and England)
1964 Denis Law
(Man United and Scotland)
1966 Bobby Charlton
(Man United and England)
1968 George Best
(Man United and N Ireland)
1978 Kevin Keegan
(Hamburg and England)
1979 Kevin Keegan
(Hamburg and England)
2001 Michael Owen
(Liverpool and England)
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