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Michael Owen: From 'silent assassin' to horse whisperer

updated 8:13 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Former England striker Michael Owen co-owns Manor House Stables, based in Cheshire. Former England striker Michael Owen co-owns Manor House Stables, based in Cheshire.
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Brown Panther
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  • Michael Owen has moved from professional football to horse racing
  • Owen's stables houses around 90 horses
  • Wayne Rooney has two horses which are looked after by Owen
  • Owen says he has no intention of moving into training any time soon

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(CNN) -- How do you replace the adrenaline-filled emotion of scoring one of the greatest goals in World Cup history when your football career ends?

If you're Michael Owen, you start a multimillion-dollar horse racing business.

It's 16 years since a teenage Owen slalomed his way through the Argentina defense to announce himself as England's brightest superstar at France '98.

Now he is cantering to success with his own horse stables -- not that it comes close to emulating the feeling of a sweetly struck goal.

"The surge of emotion and adrenaline of scoring a goal can never be matched, no matter what you do," Owen told CNN's Winning Post show.

"This is a weird type of feeling. It's a feeling of emptiness when you say cheerio to the horse and jockey down at the start and you've just got no control over anything."

As a striker, even if you are part of an 11-man team, your fate is very much in your own hands -- or rather feet -- and you're judged by the number of goals you score.

But as a racehorse owner, Owen's success or failure is governed by a whole new range of emotions.

"With football you always feel in control. On the pitch, you can always do something to make something happen. Your destiny is in your hands in many ways," he says.

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"But with racing there's none of that. It's just a real emptiness."

Except when your horse passes the winning post.

"You're just sitting there hoping ... but when one of your horses crosses the line in front it's a great feeling and a great adrenaline rush. Not quite that of scoring a goal, but it comes close."

Owen retired from football in March 2013 following an illustrious career in which he played for several of Europe's top clubs and scored 40 goals in 89 international appearances for England.

After starting his career at Liverpool, where he scored 158 goals in 297 games, Owen went on to play for Real Madrid, Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke City.

Named European Footballer of the Year in 2001, his pace and predatory instincts made him one of the most prolific strikers in the game before a succession of injuries took their toll.

But horse racing always provided a much-needed escape from the pressure of playing at the highest level of the game, having been introduced to the "sport of kings" by his father Terry.

Owen set up Manor House Stables in May 2007 with trainer Tom Dascombe and businessman Andrew Black. Situated between Liverpool and Manchester in northwest England, the 170-acre operation houses 90 horses co-owned by up to 250 investors.

Michael Owen's career

Liverpool (1996-2004): 297 games, 158 goals

Real Madrid (2004-05): 40 games, 14 goals

Newcastle (2005-09): 79 games, 30 goals

Man Utd (2009-12): 52 games, 17 goals

Stoke (2012-13) 7 games, one goal

England (1998-2008): 89 caps, 40 goals

While the pace may have gone from his own legs, Owen's horses continue to prosper, with 81 winners last season and over 60 this time around.

As an elite footballer he was very well paid, but he is very conscious that his stables are well run financially even if it is a hobby.

"It's a business that takes a lot of money to run," he says.

"You don't want to continue to not be in profit or at least break even, so the business is in a healthy position now.

"I don't want to have to plow money into it every year, which is why it's important that it's run correctly.

"Aside from that, it's purely a hobby and if it gives me a lot of enjoyment then that's exactly what it was built to be."

Owen remains connected to football, working as a media pundit for broadcasters such as BT Sport -- which is threatening to break Sky Sports' dominance of UK coverage after landing big-money deals for the Premier League and UEFA Champions League.

His love for the game can be seen in an advert he did for BT Sport in a sketch where he sneaks into a recording booth to excitedly commentate on his greatest goals.

"My real business and my real passion and my real purpose for getting up is still in football," Owen says.

"I look after a lot of young talented players in this country and I do a lot of television work and everything else connected with the game, so that's where my main passion lies."

Owen is not alone when it comes to a love of football and horses -- trainer Mick Channon played for Southampton and Manchester City as well as England.

Then there is Owen's former manager at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, who has an interest in a number of horses, which means he is often seen on racecourses around the country.

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Wayne Rooney, who recently signed a $500,000 a week deal with Manchester United, also has his own horse -- Switcharooney.

"Wayne and his wife Colleen own two horses with us," Owen says.

"His family love it as well -- his father and his granddad, they're often down here, so there are a few footballers here."

The likes of Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes all part-own horses too, according to their former United teammate.

"A lot of footballers enjoy it," he adds. "The likes of Paul Scoles, John O'Shea, he's a big racing fan, and Joey Barton likes his racing.

"A lot of the others have just bought it for a day out or whatever, but some of them are really keen."

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Owen's own horse, Brown Panther, has enjoyed success in England and finished eighth at Australia's Melbourne Cup in November 2013.

He shot to fame in 2011 by winning the King George V Stakes at Ascot -- a result which left Owen with tears of joy streaming down his face.

While he does not profess to be a trainer, and is happy to leave such work to his 40-strong stables staff, Owen does believe his experience of playing elite sport can be translated into the horse world.

"The training of a racehorse is very similar to that of an athlete," he says.

"We're all mammals at the end of the day, we require the same things to make us go fast and recover.

"We all get stiff after work so there are a lot of things that football could teach racing and vice-versa."

As his playing fortunes dwindled, Owen's popularity dipped markedly at the end of his career and he was regularly targeted on social media with unrelenting abuse.

With injuries curtailing his time on the pitch, he would more often be seen on the turf next to his horses than at football stadiums.

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It led to the accusation that he was no longer interested in football and simply picking up the wages to fund his new venture -- something he strenuously denies.

"You live in a world as a footballer where people are quick to criticize or quick to question you," Owen says.

"But those same people that said, 'Oh you're taking your eye off the ball, setting up a business,' they don't realize that when you finish football you're finished and you've got nothing."

Plenty of footballers have suffered from depression or squandered their considerable earnings, but Owen was determined not to fall into that category.

"I've got a young family, so I've prepared for life after football," he says.

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