Former England striker Michael Owen says he “hated” playing football late in his career because injuries had left him “petrified”.
Owen won the Ballon d’Or in 2001 when at Liverpool, and scored 222 goals in a 17-year club career that ended in 2013.
But he says injuries forced him to change his game, a process which began when he tore his hamstring aged 19, leading to five months out.
“Once I did it once I was gone really,” Owen, 38, told BT Sport.
“I was quick, running in channels, beating people. That’s who I was – compared to the last six or so years when I turned into the only thing I could.
“I was petrified of running into a channel. I just knew I was going to tear a muscle. The worst thing about it is your instinct is to do what you have done all your life but you start thinking: ‘Oh no, don’t.'”
He left Liverpool for Real Madrid in 2004, had agreed to return to Anfield a year later but Newcastle trumped the Reds’ bid.
Moves to Manchester United – where he won his only Premier League title in 2011 – and Stoke followed.
Owen – who scored 40 goals for England and captained his country – says his fear of sprinting led to him taking up positions where team-mates would not play passes which required him to give chase.
“For six or seven years I hated it,” he added. “I couldn’t wait to retire.
“It wasn’t me. All I was doing is coming short, linking play and getting in the box. It ended up with people thinking I was a great goalscorer who didn’t do much else. Mentally I could do it, but physically I couldn’t.”
‘For me, it was turmoil’
Owen also suffered injuries such as a broken metatarsal when playing for Newcastle in 2005, an anterior cruciate ligament tear on England duty a year later, and persistent thigh and groin issues in 2007.
He made his Liverpool debut at 17 and starred at the 1998 World Cup aged 18 – but points to genetics rather than a volume of football as the reason for his problems. He says he was “made to get muscle injuries” because his father and brothers have endured similar problems.
Injuries prompted Owen to consider retirement “loads of times” and he says he offered to end his contract at Stoke in December of 2012, before eventually retiring in May of 2013.
“I admire people who can play for the love of the game,” he added. “They may lose a yard of pace and they can go down a division or play against lesser teams – but, for me, it was turmoil.”