Michael Owen believes Phil Foden can make a similar jaw-dropping impact for England this summer as he did at the 1998 World Cup.
The Liverpool striker was just 18 when he announced himself on the world stage by scoring against Romania and then memorably against Argentina during the tournament held in France.
Now Foden, 21, fresh from a stellar title-winning season with Manchester City, heads an exciting crop of young talent in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad.
Phil Foden has been backed to shine for England at the upcoming European Championship
Michael Owen, who burst onto the world stage in 1998, believes Foden can make a big impact
Teenager Owen scored a sensational individual goal against Argentina in the round of 16
As the Three Lions prepare for a tournament that culminates with semi-finals and the final in familiar surroundings at Wembley, the likes of Foden, Mason Mount, Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish offer a surfeit of creative options.
Owen, who scored 40 goals in 89 appearances for England, doesn’t believe they yet compare to the much-vaunted ‘Golden Generation’ he was part of but they could be far more successful.
‘I think Foden is special, he’s different. I think we are talking about someone that could be a great, he could be world class,’ Owen said.
‘His strength is the way he moves, his first touch. It’s all effortless, the way he glides into the game. A lot of people take a touch and then move. Everything he does is so easy on the eye.
‘He has real speed that people don’t even notice because he doesn’t look like a speedster. His attitude, his mentality to the game shows he’s just a born footballer.
‘His decision making, his ability to score goals, to assist goals, he oozes class and sometimes a player comes along every generation.
England prepared for the tournament with back-to-back 1-0 wins over Austria and Romania
Gareth Southgate is blessed with a talented crop of England players at the tournament
‘I was one, Steven Gerrard was one 20 years ago, then a Wayne Rooney came along, and I think Phil Foden could be another one that comes along.’
Owen speaks from experience when he says Foden and England’s other young guns won’t be fazed by the extra pressures of tournament football. Indeed, it’s success at such competitions that proves life-changing.
‘The benefit of being a young player in these tournaments is you are absolutely fearless,’ he said.
‘You’ve never had a setback in your life, you’ve been the best at under-10, under-12, under-14, under-16, under-18, you’ve broken all the records. You’re just a bloody good player.
‘So there’s no scars and you just go out there thinking you’re the best and that’s the advantage of being young.
‘From Foden’s point of view, he’s got no scars, he believes in himself, he’s just got to the Champions League final, he thinks he’s one of the best players in the world and rightly so.
Foden won the Premier League title with Manchester City following an outstanding season
Foden scored twice against Iceland in the UEFA Nations League to open his England account
‘Yes, he’ll sharpen up his focus and be a little bit more nervous because it’s England, because it’s a first major tournament.
‘But then you think, well, I’ve had loads of things thrown in front of me – my Man City debut, my Champions League debut, massive games and I’ve always succeeded.
‘The only difference is off the pitch. If he does well – and we can discuss that after the tournament – then that’s his life changes. It was a life changer for me.
‘What I did on the pitch in 1998 at the World Cup was nothing different to what I’d done winning the Golden Boot in my first year at 17. I went to the tournament having already succeeded.
‘Afterwards, how that can change you as a person, now that’s another question, and we’ve seen Gazza in 1990, we’ve seen loads.
‘But the on pitch stuff is not even a question. It will be absolutely fine for him.’
Owen (front row – right) was part of the much-vaunted England ‘Golden Generation’ of the early 21st century. Back row left to right: Paul Robinson, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch, Frank Lampard. Front row left to right: Joe Cole, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole and Owen prepare to face Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup
But despite high expectations, Owen’s tournaments with England always proved disappointing
The bulk of Owen’s England career saw him take the field alongside the likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney.
But this exceptional group never converted their talent into a tournament success with three consecutive quarter-final exits in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
‘That generation of players I don’t think we will ever have again and I don’t care if we win a tournament,’ Owen said.
‘An England squad can’t be as good as what we had at that time. It was just a freak generation and everyone counters that by saying, “you didn’t bloody win anything!”
‘But I think this is the best squad we’ve had in 10 or 12 years. I think it’s improving, the extra year with Covid has possibly benefitted the England team.
‘The likes of Foden, Grealish, Bellingham, you could name five or six players who are better than a year ago. None of the players are over the hill and it’s the best chance we’ve had in a good few years.’
Chelsea’s Mason Mount enters the Euros this month as a Champions League winner
Jack Grealish is certainly a player who could offer England some x-factor during Euro 2020
Jude Bellingham (right) is just 17 but already looks right at home in the England set-up
England are favourites to top a group containing Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic, but their last-16 draw in that instance is likely to pit them against one of France, Germany or Portugal.
A recent survey by booking.com, the official Accommodation and Attractions Booking Partner of UEFA EURO 2020, surprisingly found that 61 per cent of England football fans would rather see rivals Germany win the tournament than skip their next holiday post Covid.
But Owen says England should not be daunted by the prospect of facing any of those teams.
‘If we win the group and play Portugal or France, I think it’s a toss of a coin whether we win. If we play Germany, I think we’ll be favourites.’
Booking.com proves we are more friends than rivals during UEFA EURO 2020™ #RivalsReUnited