Michael Owen on the English team, Wayne Rooney and the goals record

Wayne Rooney needs two goals in Sunday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia to equal Sir Bobby Charlton's England all-time scoring record that has stood for 45 years, yet that 49-goal target could have been reset by Michael Owen long ago.

Owen burst on to the international scene as a teenager in sensational fashion with a remarkable goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup. It seemed as if the youngster would go on to become an England scoring great from there.

While his status as the fifth-highest scorer in England history with 40 goals is worthy of huge respect, injuries and other issues halted his rise up the scoring charts.

Speaking exclusively to ESPN FC at the launch of BT Sport Europe, the new home of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League in the U.K., 2001 Ballon d'Or winner Owen gave us his views on Rooney and England, while offering a grim prognosis of the state of the international game.

Q: International football appears to be struggling to excite England fans. Would you share that mood of apathy ahead of this Sunday's game against Slovenia?

A: I don't particularly enjoy watching international football in the way that I used to. It hurts me to say that, but it's true. Give me a great Champions League game or an exciting Premier League game ahead of an international match and I'd love that to reverse. A lot of people have lost interest in England games and at the moment, it is quite hard to watch.

Q: If the international game is losing its appeal, do you see a day when players and their clubs make moves to try to avoid taking part in big matches?

A: I have never thought of a scenario where international football was not a massive part of our game, but when you mention it in that way, I think you could have a point. Clubs don't like their players going off to play international matches and you can see a scenario where they eventually start to make it more difficult for international sides to call up players. I'm sure FIFA would try to stop that but the clubs have a lot of power these days and I could possibly see that happening at some point.

Q: International football was traditionally viewed as the highest level of the game. Would you say Champions League football is a step ahead now?

A: The Champions League is more interesting to watch than international football and the quality is superior as well. You put the Barcelona team that won the Champions League the other night against the German national team and ask who would win, you'd say it would be Barcelona. I suppose you would expect that because national teams are limited in their choice of players, but it is the reality now.

Q: How do we regenerate interest in the international game and try to get stadiums filled again for big matches?

A: While the World Cup is great every four years, I think people struggle to get themselves excited about qualifiers against the smaller nations. It will take some good performances from the national team to get the feel-good factor back, as far as the England team goes at least.

Q: Do you feel this mood of antipathy toward international football is restricted to England?

A: A lot of people have lost interest in watching England play. To get motivated to watch international football, you need your country to be having some form of success and England haven't had any for a long time now. I don't get a lot of enjoyment out of sitting there for an hour and a half watching a game like we saw between Ireland and England last Sunday.

Q: Wayne Rooney might break the England scoring record this weekend but he has yet to shine at a World Cup. Is that why he isn't seen as a great England striker by some of his critics?

A: Possibly. His best tournament was the 2004 European Championships, when he played alongside me and made such a big impact, but it hasn't happened for him at the World Cup for one reason or another. Despite that, he has to be viewed as a great England striker if he breaks Sir Bobby Charlton's record. Scoring goals at international level is much more difficult than it was a few years back because even the lesser teams are well organised and don't concede too many goals these days.

Q: Rooney was expected to carry the team in many ways, but he was not the only problem. Has he received too much criticism for his role in England's World Cup failures in 2006, 2010 and 2014?

A: It's easy to point your finger and say he hasn't performed in the big tournaments. He's been part of those teams, but it's very difficult as a striker. If your team aren't playing well, you hit the headlines. There have been more things wrong with England than just Wayne Rooney in the last few years.

Q: You looked certain to break Charlton's England scoring record not so long ago, but injuries and your omission from the squad cost you. Do you have regrets that you didn't get to the 50-goal mark?

A: There are plenty of ifs, buts and maybes for me with England. I thought I would break the scoring record when I got to 40 goals by the age of 27 or 28, but then Fabio Capello took over and he never picked me again. I probably would have got past Bobby's record if given a chance, but I can't sit back and regret it. I didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't my fault that a manager came in and didn't pick me.