Michael Owen will see out the final year of his contract with Manchester United during the coming season but injury and the immediate impact of new Mexican striker Javier Hernández is likely to reduce the former Liverpool forward’s role in the team. Owen, 30, appeared in 31 games for United last season, scoring nine goals.
Owen’s arrival on a free transfer last summer followed a disastrous injury-plagued four year spell at relegated Newcastle United. Indeed, the animosity the former England striker created among the Gallowgate faithful is a direct result of the player’s heavy wages, huge transfer fee and lack of serious impact.
Widely regarded as a surprise signing by Sir Alex Ferguson, the picture of Owen’s time at Newcastle hardly altered in his single season at Old Trafford. Injury, quite predictably, ended a campaign in which the 30-year-old rarely started. There was perhaps little surprise in that though. After all, expectations at Old Trafford were hardly high to start with.
Now though the 89 cap international faces a challenge making the United squad, let alone the first team with seven strikers now on the club’s books. It is possible that Owen, still a few weeks short of full fitness, will have slipped to fifth in the pecking order by the time the striker returns to fitness, behind Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Hernández and even Federico Macheda.
The greatest challenge to Owen’s role in the team undoubtedly comes from new boy Chicharito, who on first appearances is a fitter, younger, faster and more flexible forward. Hernández, 21, scored for United against the MLS All Stars and then against his own team for CD Chivas Guadalajara on Friday night.
Although supporters’ expectations of the Mexican should be kept in check – the player is moving team, country and continent to an alien style of football – Hernández’ offers everything that Owen brings to the club, save for experience.
It’s a quality Owen spoke about this week, with the former Real Madrid player entering the final year of his contract with the club, although each party has an option for a third year at Old Trafford.
“I’d love this to be my last club,” said Owen, who is unlikely to return until September.
“You look at Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville and you like to think you have five more years in the game. I’m 30, and I don’t want to wish my career away. In an ideal world I’d like to play out my years here.
“I had great moments last season – a hat-trick in the Champions League and a goal in the Carling Cup Final, but the derby goal was fantastic. It was one of the biggest, most pure adrenaline rushes of my career. It’s alongside that Germany hat-trick, scoring twice in the FA Cup Final, and that goal in St Etienne.”
Owen needs to get fit and stay fit to challenge for a place in the United side of course. After all the player started only 10 games last season, and the Champions League hat-trick aside the player hit the net on just six other occasions.
The issue of fitness is perennially a source of frustration for the player, who appears in total denial about the problems that have dogged a career.
“I was fit for 43 games,” claimed the forward, who appeared in just 71 Premier League games over four years on Tyneside.
“The pity is I missed the ones at the end when we were playing for things. The amount of injuries I have had is exaggerated. It can be annoying, but you learn to live with it.”
In the meantime Hernández may well become another annoyance by supplanting Owen in the United squad.