Whisper it quietly but former Dipper hero Michael Owen might just prove to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most shrewd acquisitions if the striker’s pre-season form is anything to go by. While Owen’s move to United has been met with no little sceptism by United fans – not least on this site – the player seems ready to ram that criticism back down the throats of even the most ardent of doubters.
Owen, who has scored four goals in as many games on the tour to Malaysia, Korea and China, has looked fit and sharp in his four matches to date.
“This tour is not the acid test, but given Michael’s ability and understanding of play around the last third, I think he will be getting goals and things are looking good for us in that position,” said Ferguson after the recent 8-2 victory over Hangzhou in China.
“His contribution in overall play is suited to us. He is very clever in the last third and knows when to run and when to hold runs. That, linked with the experience he gives in that position, will be good for us.”
Owen is likely to be paired with Wayne Rooney – a partnership that was not tested in Asia – for the Audi Cup against Boca Juniors and Bayern Munich or AC Milan in Germany later this week. While the pair rarely seemed to click at international level, Owen’s best chance of regular football may be to turn that around during the coming season.
Owen will no doubt have been surprised by the rapturous reception he received across Asia. He is one of England’s most ‘marketable products’ – a point emphasised in the embarrassing brochure developed by his PR team ahead of the move to United. But the hero worship that Owen received in Asia is unlikely to be replicated at Old Trafford by a public who remember the forward’s attempts to garrotte Ronny Johnsen at Old Trafford in 1998. It’s an antipathy that Ferguson is unlikely to have taken into account when signing Owen and handing the player the coveted number seven shirt.
“I am not concerned with what supporters think,” he said. “The important thing is to give the shirt to someone who is confident to carry it and Michael is the natural one to get it.”
With Best, Robson, Cantona and Ronaldo having donned the number seven shirt, Owen undoubtedly has a lot to live up to. Something that United legend Ryan Giggs believes Owen will fulfill.
“Michael is just proving what we all know: that he is a great goalscorer. He’s a poacher who scores all types of goals – headers, tap-ins and then a great volley [against Hangzhou]. They have all come from inside the box and that’s where he does his work. That’s where he comes alive.
“The manager says that he provides something that we haven’t got. The good thing about Michael over the years is that if he misses a chance, it doesn’t bother him one bit. Some players go into a shell if they miss, but it doesn’t bother him because he knows he’s going to get another chance. Coming here has given him a new lease of life.”
The pressure will be on the Scouser to make-up some of the 41 goals scored by Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez last season. But Federico Macheda and Dimitar Berbatov were also excellent in Asia, and United supporters’ concern about whether the team will score enough goals this season may be easing.
Berbatov especially appeared to strike up an instant understanding with Owen in China. The Bulgarian’s sublime flick for Owen’s second goal was a timely reminder of just how much talent the former Tottenham forward has to offer.