Speciali ’92: Michael Owen goes back to his early days by Aaron› 18 Nov 2011
In the top five for all-time England goalscorers, one-time winner of the European Football of the Year: Michael Owen is probably one of the only players to rival Alan Shearer in the England striker stakes over the past 20 years. Also a long-time Speciali fan, we sat down with the Manchester United forward to discover how he first got to know the boots…
How did you first come into contact with Umbro then Michael?
‘Lilleshall (The FA’s former Centre Of Excellence) was when me and Umbro first came together. Because it was run by The FA everyone was kitted out in Umbro, and we all got issued a pair of boots at the start. It’s funny actually, you get into Lilleshall and it’s this great place to be, you’re going to represent your country and you’re very proud of that, but the best thing for everyone was getting your goody bag at the beginning with a tracksuit and your boots and all that!’
How old were you at this time?
‘I was at Lilleshall for my last two years at school, so between 14 and 16, we did the whole school year there. We were like full time professionals before our time really, because in those days you’d normally join a club at 16 as a YTS. We had Saturday off to go and watch a Premier League match, and then Sunday was our game, so we were playing in those Umbro boots virtually every game. We had to look after them as well, they had to last for the whole season! They were such a good boot at the time, we all used to enjoy wearing them, and they just lasted.
There was two years at Lilleshall, and we used to play each other every Friday. There’d be trouble if the juniors beat the seniors – we used to play until it was almost pitch black as they didn’t want the juniors to win! I remember that our year was really, really good. We used to play all the academies on the Sunday, so one week it’d be Liverpool, then the next week Arsenal, then Everton, etcetera, and we used to beat everyone.
It was then the second year of Lilleshall when I started getting things sent through from Umbro, when I started being sponsored. That was always a great moment at that age, getting a box and opening it in the changing rooms in front of everyone else!’
What was it about the Speciali boots that you liked?
‘The softness of the boot was the in thing at the time, but that changes over time, doesn’t it? It was lightness for a while, but at that time it was how soft the Speciali was. But they start losing that as you play in them, so that’s how you could tell who was looking after their boots, because they’d stay soft and in good shape.’
Are you someone who prefers the classic look for a boot?
‘I think you move with the times – I remember Umbro trying to get me to try other colours at some point, and I was really reluctant, but you do it once and then it seems normal! Now, I don’t think people bat an eyelid, unless it’s something fluorescent, I don’t mind really. I do prefer a type, rather than a particular colour, I’m not keen on those boots that have elements to change the swerve or affect your game. I prefer a pure, classic boot, like the Speciali, with things like durability, lightness and comfort.’
Are you keen to have your name on your boots? Who was the first player to do that kind of thing?
‘David Beckham was definitely one of the first, if not the first, and that’s one of those things that’s just grown from there. As soon as everyone saw it they wanted something. The first thing I had was my autograph, and my number. I wouldn’t want anything else really – I wouldn’t want to do it for the FA Cup final and then have to break a new pair in for a game like that!’
There was actually one occasion where I’d been asked to wear some special embroidered boots by Umbro for the FA Cup final. I was on a great streak at the time, we’d won the Carling Cup, going really well, and we were looking forward to the FA Cup as well. I went into training on the week before wearing these new boots for the final, and the manager at the time Gerard Houllier noticed and was adamant that I couldn’t wear them. So I wore the old ones instead, and obviously went on to score two goals in the final. So I never got to wear those boots!’
What about superstitions around boots, would you ever change your boots after a run of bad games?
‘No, I was lucky when I was a kid to have a pair for two or three years, so I had to look after them and make them last. I think that lives with you as well, so that’s continued as I’ve got older. You’ve got to respect what you’ve got. My dad always took pride in me looking smart on the pitch as well, he’d never let me clean my boots, that was something he always did for me. Then they’d look great before the next game and they’d last, and that’s embedded in me. I always put my right boot on first, that comes from my dad as well, that was his superstition when he was a player, so he’s passed that on. And I do it with my kids now!
I’d only retire some boots early if I did something special in them. I’ve kept a couple of pairs of boots – I’ve got my World Cup 98 boots, and the Germany hat trick boots with the match ball, I keep a few.’
If you could pick out the best moments for you in Speciali boots, what would they be?
‘The 1998 World Cup obviously. There was a hat-trick against Newcastle for Liverpool once, and getting those first boots back at Lilleshaw would have to be in there. I scored for Liverpool on my debut in Specialis as well, and my England debut. And the City-United derby with the last minute 4-3 winner, that has to be up there!’
And isn’t it true you’ve got a horse called Speciali?
‘My first horse was called Etienne Lady, after scoring in St Etienne, then the next horse was named after all my family’s initials, and then we went for Speciali for our third horse, after the boots I wore in the ‘98 World Cup. I’m running out of names now, so I might have to do a competition for the next one!’
What about the other players who have worn Speciali boots, like Alan Shearer?
‘He was the man when I was coming through as a player. And also, as you get older you realise that people like Umbro have ‘lead players’ in campaigns, and Alan was always the main man at that time. We played alongside each other for England for a few years, and he was always a terrific player to work with.’
Thanks to Michael for taking the time to speak to us about his early days. The Speciali ’92 collection is on sale now, head to Umbro.com to see more.
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