Former Liverpool and England footballer Michael Owen has admitted he was staring ‘into an abyss called divorce’ as he struggled to come to terms with life after he hung up his boots.
Owen, 39, revealed that he went to counselling in order to save his marriage and now believes he is a model husband and father.
The dad-of-four said that things came to a head a year after he retired after a stellar career that also saw him play for Real Madrid, Manchester United and Newcastle before ending his playing days at Stoke City.
Michael Owen has revealed how retiring from football placed considerable strain on his marriage to wife Louise
Former England striker Owen pictured with his daughter Gemma Rose on a visit to Royal Ascot
He explained: ‘To my surprise, I found myself standing at a figurative cliff edge in 2014. A lifetime of that certain type of mentality, of behaviour, had led me to a point where I had to seek professional help.
‘Yes, that’s right, me! Given how resistant I’d been to any kind of psychology throughout my career, even I couldn’t escape the irony of where I now found myself. I suppose, with the benefit of hindsight, this personal wake-up call had quietly crept up on me.’
Owen admitted that because he was ‘an extremely focused and driven person’ that ‘some have even said that they’ve seen a cold darkness in me’ – and added: ‘The truth is, inside, I have raged at times.’.
He said: ‘On match days, nobody dared say a word to me. My wife Louise will tell you all about that. That my family and Louise tolerated half of what I threw at them and still kept backing me is one of the most profound examples of unconditional love that I can think of.
‘And as much as I try to justify it to myself with that old adage ‘you always hurt the ones you love most,’ I think even I knew, deep down inside, that it was wrong.
‘There is no doubt that this maniacal focus on success propelled me through my career. Added to my footballing ability, this dark force is what drove me to the heights I reached.
Owen carries Gemma as he is unveiled as a Newcastle player at St James’ Park in August 2005
Gemma is a dressage rider who has represented the Great Britain team in various events
‘I doubt anyone in my close circles would say that I was ever that easy to live with. But the honest truth is, as far as I was concerned, I was just being Michael Owen – doing what I needed to do to be me.’
But as Owen wrestled with life after football, he began to turn on his wife Louise, who he had wed when they were childhood sweethearts.
He said: ‘In the summer of 2014, a year into retirement, it had reached a stage where it was becoming apparent that the bloody-minded way I’d approached my football career, just wasn’t compatible with normal, family life.
‘As they say, something had to give. The issue that eventually brought everything to a head had been simmering for some time.
‘For years, because of my own inner demons, I was intentionally really hard on Louise about subjects that I knew would push her buttons most – not least her close relationship with our daughter Gemma.
‘Let me be very clear and say that none of this was in any way a reflection on how I felt about either Gemma or Louise. I love them both with all of me; I now know that it was just my flaws and insecurities at play.
‘I’d take everything out on Louise, though – I’d accuse her of spending all her time with her eldest and ignoring the other kids. It wasn’t even true.
Owen in an Instagram picture with his family on a visit to the Alton Towers theme park
‘On one hand I’d criticise her lifelong passion for dressage and then turn it against her – even though, on the other, I’d do everything humanly possible to support her in her pursuit of it. It made no sense.
‘We’d continually get into arguments about petty things and I’d always resort to the same, predictable tactics whereby I turned everything back on her. I was like a broken record: always repeating the same song.
‘Inside I knew that I adored Louise and would never, ever want to split up. Yet, I could feel everything slipping away. As time passed, Louise began questioning our future together, as she was absolutely entitled to do.
‘Given that she’d been with me since we were teenagers – through times when we had nothing, to a lifestyle beyond all our wildest dreams – for her to question our viability at all was a reflection of how bad things had become because of me.’
The BT Sport pundit said things reached crisis point on a family holiday when he knew he had to seek professional help to save their relationship – and reached out to the Manchester United team doctor, who told him he needed counselling.
He said: ‘The problem became most magnified while we were all on holiday in Dubai that year. I was picking, needling – being nasty. I knew what I was doing, but couldn’t stop it.
Owen and wife Louise on a visit to Royal Ascot in 2012, shortly before he retired from football
‘As I stared into an abyss called divorce, panicking, I called Steve McNally, the doctor at Manchester United. For some reason I’ve always gravitated towards doctors throughout my career.
‘I saw a lot of them, remember. Steve was no exception. I always really valued his opinions and his view was that we should get some counselling as soon as possible.
‘I say we – but by this point, as stubborn as I can be – even I knew that it was me who had the problem. As much as there always has to be room for adjustment on both sides of a marriage, I knew beyond doubt that I was the one who had to change in order to become a normal husband and a loving dad.
‘Our whole future as a family hinged on me being mature enough to look inwardly for once – to face aspects of my character that, while effective during my playing career, were completely destructive outside of it.
‘Not long after our return from Dubai, Louise and I went to counselling – initially together and thereafter I continued for more sessions on my own.
‘The whole process was a revelation. Soon I started to feel like a new person – like I’d shed an enormous burden. I had just needed someone to talk to and to show me what was in front of me all along: I deeply loved my wife; I wholeheartedly loved my family.
Owen’s book ‘Michael Owen: Reboot – My Life, My Time’ has caused plenty of controversy
Manchester United doctor Steve McNally helped Owen through his dark times
‘As soon as I reconciled with this quite simple understanding, all the anger and resentment that I’d felt building up over time just slipped away. I started feeling that I could view the rest of my life through new eyes.
‘When I did, I left all the anger and the focus that had driven me to great success for years, in the dust. These few weeks in 2014 were so pivotal.
‘The culmination was that I stopped being Michael Owen the footballer and embarked on the path to a new Michael – a normal person. I was rebooting my life.’
In his new book, Reboot, Owen said that he is now a completely different man since the counselling and is focused on being a devoted dad and husband.
He said: ‘Now that my life-changing liaison with the idea of splitting up with Louise and the family in 2014 has passed, I’m pretty sure that everyone who knows me will say that I’m now a completely different person – in the best possible way.
‘In the background, while I’ve been making career moves, Louise has been the absolute bedrock of the family – allowing me to do what I was being paid to do.
‘Nowadays, certainly post-2014, the dynamics have changed and I’m happy that they have. As much as my life is still very full, I’d like to think I’m much more involved in family life.
‘I do the school run, go to school meetings, watch dressage, hockey matches and generally do all the things that a loving dad should do. Better still, having levelled with my past and let the dark forces that fuelled me go; I’m so much easier to be around.’
For confidential 24/7 support in the UK, call Samaritans on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.