Darius Vassell tells us about Michael Owen's kind gesture after Euro 2004 penalty pain

Ex-England and Aston Villa forward chats to Team 33's Raf Diallo about his career

BY Raf Diallo 14:18 Wednesday 24 May 2017, 14:18 24 May 2017

Darius Vassell and Michael Owen watch the penalty shoot out from the half way line. Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

For many, the crop of players England had at Euro 2004 was the strongest they had brought to a major tournament in recent times.

In defence, they had elite full backs in the shape of Gary Neville and Ashley Cole, flanking an enviable list of centre backs to choose from including Sol Campbell, John Terry, Ledley King and Jamie Carragher (Rio Ferdinand was absent).

Up front, Wayne Rooney was bursting onto the scene spectacularly in a partnership with the reliably prolific Michael Owen.

And of course in midfield, then manager Sven Goran Eriksonn was trying to build around four outstanding individuals in the shape of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes, who ended up being placed on the left flank and away from his usual sphere of influence.

Therein lay one of the problems as fitting excellent individuals into a starting XI, rather than building a cohesive unit saw England fail to make the most of a generation landed with the golden tag.

Former Aston Villa and Manchester City forward Darius Vassell was a member of that generation of players, getting game time at the 2002 World Cup and then at Euro 2004.

Unfortunately for the Birmingham native and Beckham, both would miss their penalties in the shootout defeat to hosts Portugal in the quarter finals.

And that memory plus the aftermath was one Vassell discussed with us on Newstalk's Team 33 in an interview about his career as he releases his new autobiography The Road To Persia.

You can listen to the full interview with Darius Vassell on the podcast player below or on iTunes:

Vassell's penalty came in sudden death against Portugal, with Beckham already having put his effort over from an unstable penalty spot.

Despite the condition of the penalty spot, that did not worry Vassell greatly as he stepped up to take his kick. 

"It only worried me when I missed because all I had in my head was it's not going to change. 'What am I thinking about that for?' I need to think about where I want to put the ball and striking the ball cleanly and not change my mind," the 36 year old recalled on Team 33.

England's Darius Vassell see his penalty saved by Portugal's goalkeeper Ricardo. Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

"That was all I tried to concern myself with during that time which felt like about an hour. I'm proud of myself for the way I tried to take the kick and that I didn't change my mind. I left it a little bit too [down to] fate and I felt like if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I didn't feel like I wanted to be messing about and changing my mind at the last minute which you see some penalty takers do."

As fate would have it, Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo would guess the right way and make the save without his gloves on, before stepping himself to take the winning kick for Portugal to send the hosts through to the Euro 2004 semi finals.

Coincidentally, Ricardo would later play with Vassell and for Eriksson at Leicester seven years later and as Vassell reveals in his book, Ricardo would later confide to him the only penalty he wasn't sure about beforehand in terms of direction and technique was the Aston Villa man's one.

Naturally, as with any player to miss a shootout for their country, Vassell felt an immediate sense of letting the country down and he was reluctant to return home to England straight away.

England's Darius Vassell (centre left) and Captain David Beckham are consoled after missing penalties during the Euro 2004 quarter-final match at the Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal. England lost to Portugal 6-5 on penalties after the match ended in a 2-2 draw following extra-time. Nick Potts/PA Archive/PA Images

Among those to try and talk him round were captain Beckham who came to his room, perched on the end of his bed and spoke warmly to him. Eriksson, who would later work with Vassell again at Manchester City and Leicester and wrote a chapter of the book, also let him know that England's exit was not his fault.

But it was Michael Owen who surprised Vassell, given that they were not especially close at the time.

"It came out of nowhere and obviously we were still in Portugal at the time and this squad were aware that I didn't want to come home," he told me.

"I wasn't quite handling it that well at the time which was understandable. But [Owen] came through with the offer to stay at his villa in Portugal."

It was an offer free of charge, for as long as Vassell needed to clear his head before returning to England.

Vassell continued: "Me and Michael didn't sort of speak a lot but when that came through it made me realise how close that team was and how much people were thinking of me at the time and how much they didn't want me to put all the blame on myself. It really meant a lot [what Owen offered]. I didn't actually get to stay at the place because Beckham got me thinking correctly and doing the right thing, which was to come home with the team. But at the same time, if I'd chosen not to come home with the team, Michael Owen's place was available for me. And I'll always be grateful for that and it meant a lot." 

Darius Vassell's new autobiography is titled The Road To Persia and you can find more information about it here.

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