Tag Michael Owen

Tag Michael Owen

Three players holding United back

January 4, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 62 comments

While a knee-jerk reaction in the aftermath of yet another defeat for Manchester United – an eighth this season – benefits nobody, some players have underperformed this season. This much is glaringly clear to the Old Trafford faithful. Defeat to Leeds United serves to highlight the problem, with three players in particular failing to do the shirt justice.

Despite Darron Gibson’s goal tally this season and threat from long-range – something desperately required in the current side – the Irishman has become a luxury United cannot afford right now. The Derry-born midfielder’s overall game simply lacks the basic features expected of any United player.

In recent fixtures Gibson has been United’s worst performer, with no better example than the team’s 3-0 defeat away to Fulham recently. At 22 there is time for the Lampard-esque player to improve but if Fulham’s Jonathan Greening, ditched by Sir Alex Ferguson at a similar age, wasn’t good enough for the boss, then Gibson certainly isn’t either.

Dimitar Berbatov’s transformation from one of the Premier League’s finest strikers at Tottenham Hotspur, to an under-performing waste of space mystifies many United fans. The £30 million Bulgarian’s talent is obvious, yet he offers the team so little. At international level Berbatov is a record-breaking goalscorer. It’s a feat he looks far from matching at Old Trafford.

From day one in Manchester, Berbatov conjured memories of the King, Eric Cantona. But just five goals in 23 matches this campaign says it all; Berbatov is no Cantona. Instead, United is desperate for the goalscoring central striker that the team has lacked since Louis Saha’s departure.

Michael Owen is now billed as as an ‘impact’ substitute since his free summer transfer to Old Trafford. Yet, when United is down – a common occurrence this season – Owen adds so very little to the picture from the bench. True, there are few better finishers than Owen from the six yard line but if a malfunctioning team fails to create the simplest of chances for the striker, the player adds little to Ferguson’s squad. Much as it is painful to say, perhaps United is missing in-form Carlos Tevez after all.

Despite the problems the trio’s malaise might not be terminal. Within the current squad there are constant reminders of players who have struggled, only to blossom later in their United careers. Take for example Darren Fletcher, transformed from a the much derided midfielder dubbed ‘The Scottish Player’, to one of the first names on the team sheet.

Then there is Patrice Evra, who endured a nightmare start to his Old Trafford career, but is now both a fans’ favourite and one of the few United players to emerge unscathed this season.

Gibson, Berbatov and Owen may well come good and prove central to United’s cause this season. For the time being the trio sum up the malaise within the club at the moment. The club faces a crucial couple of months in the Premier League, Carling Cup and Champions League. Can the underperforming players up their game?

Owen hat-trick breaks Wolfsburg hearts

December 9, 2009 Tags: , Matches 4 comments

Michael Owen’s first hat-trick in four years helped an injury-ravaged Manchester United see off Wolfsburg and secure top spot in Group B. United’s injury crisis, with Sir Alex Ferguson missing nine defenders, meant that Patrice Evra, captain for the night, was the only recognised defender in the side that secured an unlikely 3-1 victory in Germany.

Evra, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher created a three-man defence, with the energetic Park Ji-Sung filling in at right wing-back and Nani reprising the role on the other flank.

Wolfsburg required a win at the Volkswagon Arena to seal the club’s place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, while United needed only a point to secure top spot and a potentially easier tie in the next round.

Wolfsburg, surely sensing an opportunity, looked threatening against the makeshift United defence and should have taken a 17th minute lead when Andrea Barzagli found himself unmarked five yards out. The midfielder’s close-range header flew over a grateful Tomasz Kuszczak in United’s goal.

Carrick was then fortunate not to concede a penalty when he felled Makoto Hasebe with a mis-timed tackle eight yards out. While the midfielder was not under control of the ball, the referee got the decision wrong in awarding a corner.

Woflsburg wasted two further guilt-edged chances when Barzagli and then  Zvjezdan Misimovic headed over when well placed.

But United countered well on the break and teenage striker Danny Welbeck slotted in neatly on the half hour only for the referee to rule the Manchester-born striker’s effort offside.

Then came United’s break a minute before the interval. Paul Scholes played a ball out to Nani on the left-wing and the infuriating Portuguese winger repaid the manager’s faith by looping a pinpoint cross to the back post for Owen to outjump his marker and nod in. One chance, one goal from the diminutive striker.

Wolfsburg, almost inevitably, struck back after the break. Midfielder Marcel Schafer crossed from the left and reported United target Edin Dzeko powered a header past Kuszczak. The Polish ‘keeper, who is starting to show some real confidence in Edwin van der Sar’s absence, could do nothing to prevent the equaliser.

Kuszczak was in good form and he denied Grafite, Misimovic and Dzeko as Wolfsburg looked for the winning goal to take the side into the next stage.

Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan came on for Nani and Welbeck and ten minutes later United scored to end Wolfsburg’s hopes of qualification.  Obertan brilliantly danced his way through the German’s defence – beating three players in the process – and delivered an inch-perfect pass across the six-yard line for Owen to slot home.

Wolfsburg, desperate to find an opening, piled forward but United ended the game with a superbly taken third. Obertan found Owen on the counter and the former-Liverpool striker ran half the length of the pitch before expertly chipping in for his hat-trick and three points for United.

Fabio Capello take note.

“It was a fantastic performance,” said Ferguson of Owen’s hat-trick.

“Michael’s finishing and positional play were superb. He has proved his worth and I’m delighted with his performance.

“Obviously, in some games recently we have only played with one striker and Wayne Rooney has been it. Against Wolfsburg we used a different system.

“I made the point some weeks ago that Owen’s training performances have improved steadily. I have had no worries about him.

“The evidence of a player is always on the field and Michael has given us that.”

Team: Kuszczak;  Evra, Carrick, Fletcher; Park, Scholes, Gibson, Anderson, Nani (Valencia 74); Owen, Welbeck (Obertan 74)

Owen settling into United life

November 24, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has proved an astute player in the transfer market during his time at Old Trafford. Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and even Cristiano Ronaldo signed for relatively small fees. But this summer’s acquisition of Michael Owen on a free transfer from Newcastle United could prove  his most outrageous signing yet.

When supporters appealed for Sir Alex to “sign up” Carlos Tevez on a permanent basis few could have predicted that Owen would walk through Old Trafford’s doors in his stead. But the £25 million fee demanded by Tevez’ owners towards the tail end of last season, together with Owen’s non-contract status at Newcastle, made the deal a no-brainer.

A simple review of the statistics said as much. Tevez scored just 15 goals last season. Owen already has four this, the same number as Manchester City’s new recruit. Owen’s current strike-rate of a goal every game and a half on the pitch mean the forward will hit 15 by the season’s end. Aside from the Argentinian’s tenacity, United has missed little about the former West Ham United striker this campaign.

Many supporters were rightly concerned about Owen’s record of injuries. The former-Liverpool striker has lost a couple of yards of pace but has improved in other areas. Like Ryan Giggs before him, Owen has adapted to his advancing years and concentrated on the aspects of his game that don’t rely on the sheer pace of his youth.

Critics will point to the chances that Owen still misses, including two against Everton last weekend. But this does not detract from those that the England international has put away. The forward’s strike against City in United’s 4-3 derby victory was nothing short of World class. And of the strikers at Ferguson’s disposal, only Rooney is more reliable in front of goal when the big chance arrives.

Owen also recognises the opportunity he has been given by Sir Alex, despite spending much of the campaign warming the bench.

“I’ve played in a team that was struggling and I much prefer a winning club, even if it means I don’t play every minute of every game,” Owen said recently.

“I’ve had my fair share of starts and minutes on the pitch this season so I’m not about to complain.”

Although Owen is unlikely to make the England squad that travels to South Africa for the World Cup, his chances are still best served at United. While Jermaine Defoe and Darren Bent have scored more goals this season – and each has a fighting chance of being on Fabio Capello’s list – Owen’s confidence and fitness will increase throughout the season. If Owen hadn’t moved to United this summer, England would be a long forgotten dream.

United fans care little for England of course. But as soon as the Chester-born forward netted against City, Old Trafford’s faithful accept him. Forget the shirts of the past, the here and now is what matters for supporters and Owen alike.

“Scoring the derby winner was really special,” Owen said.

“When I retire and I’m thinking about my top five or six thrills I got out of football, I’ll think about my goal against Argentina and scoring two in an FA Cup final (against Arsenal in 2001).

“But scoring that goal against City is right up there.”

It was a moment that will define Owen’s time at United. The instant in which Owen – former Liverpool striker – became part of the club for the first time.

While Liverpool fans have offered Owen some abuse it has been no more so than in the player’s five years away from Anfield. Almost any fan would agree, Owen’s move to United was the right one for the player. A transfer that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

How would Owen’s career have progressed if the youngster had taken up Sir Alex’ contract offer at 14? There’s a good argument to say he would not only have been close to being England’s record goalscorer, but perhaps United’s too.

Michael Owen is a red, he hates Scousers

November 24, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 2 comments

Gary Neville is far from happy that Manchester United’s Michael Owen™ has stolen his terraces song, Republik of Mancunia reports today. United supporters have, predictably adopted Neville’s “he hates Scousers” song in tribute to the former-Liverpool striker, who joined United in a free transfer deal this summer.

“I’m not sure Gary Neville’s too pleased with me nicking his song!” said Owen, who has scored four goals in 16 first team appearances this season.

“To be honest, 10 years ago I wouldn’t have dared dream I would one day play for United, so it’s a nice surprise. I’ve been very fortunate to end up here and there’s no better feeling than playing, scoring, winning a match and hearing the fans sing your name.

“I never doubted I’d score goals if I stayed fit and was given time on the pitch. How can you fail to score goals in a team like this? You’re playing with such good players that it’s impossible not to get chances.”

United’s injuries ease

October 2, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Manchester United striker Michael Owen will miss just one game – at home to Sunderland this weekend – after a scan revealed his groin injury is not as bad as feared. Former England striker Owen limped out of Wednesday’s 2-1 Champions League win over Wolfsburg after 20 minutes, with Sir Alex Ferguson claiming the player faced three weeks on the sidelines. But news from Owen’s scan today has allayed those fears.

“We expect him to be available for the game against Bolton, he certainly won’t be out for three weeks,” said United manager Ferguson, whose team faces Bolton on 17 October.

“It is understandable we wanted to take precautions given his past history. We are quite pleased and are quite comfortable with the situation.

“He did miss training earlier this week so maybe we should have left him out. But he wanted to play and I wanted him to play. Thankfully it is not a big problem for us,” Ferguson added.

Meanwhile Ferguson added in his Friday press conference that both ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar and right-back Rafael Da Silva are close to full fitness. With Owen Hargreaves back in training, Sir Alex will have just new signing Gabriel Obertan troubling the physio.

Injury jinx hits Owen again

October 1, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Michael Owen will miss three weeks after limping out of tonight’s Champions League match with VfL Wolfsburg. The striker, forced out of the game with a groin injury after 17 minutes, started United’s 2 – 1 victory at Old Trafford. The former Liverpool player had missed training earlier this week having felt the same injury.

“Groin injuries are difficult to say. He could be out two or three weeks,” said United boss Sir Alex Ferguson after tonight’s win.

“His fitness levels are good so we shouldn’t need to worry too much about it. We will treat it as a normal groin injury.

“He felt his groin after training on Sunday and he trained a little bit on Monday but had a rest day on Tuesday and he thought he was fine.

Owen, who has fought a reputation for being injury prone after appearing in just 71 match for Newcastle in four years at the club, was desperate to make his first European start for the club.

However, the injury may offer Danny Welbeck or Federico Macheda an opportunity to feature against Sunderland next weekend.

Butt stops with Nicky in Owen transfer

September 30, 2009 Tags: Shorts 3 comments

Former United midfielder Nicky Butt had a key role to play in the transfer of Michael Owen to Manchester United this summer, according to the former Liverpool star. Interviewed in The Times, Owen says that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson contacted Newcastle United’s Butt for an assessment on the former England striker’s form and fitness.

“I was at a dead end but I thought, A road will open up. I just know it will. It has to. Surely it has to,” said Owen of the end of his days at Newcastle United.

“Surely there is someone who needs a striker that can score goals, who has done it in the Premiership.”

Ferguson called the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner to invite him round for a chat, having already made up his mind that Owen would be offered a contract at United.

“The manager’s voice is pretty distinctive, so I knew it wasn’t a wind-up,” said Owen.

“Ferguson told me, ‘We are looking for a striker. I’m going to be up front, we went for Benzema and once that was a no-go we looked around for players who are going to score goals.'”

“‘Obviously the big question is if you are fit, but if you are and we can get plenty of games’, then words to the effect that it’s a no-brainer.

“‘Anyway, there’s no point in talking on the phone, we’ll chat about it tomorrow if you are free and fancy coming round.'”

But Owen, who has played at Real Madrid, Liverpool and Newcastle United, turned up at Ferguson’s house with few expectations of signing for United. Out of contract at relegated Newcastle, only Stoke City, Hull City and Everton showed any interest in the striker.

“I had a few butterflies before I went there,” said Owen.

“I listened more than I talked, which I thought was pretty wise. He said, ‘I know what has happened over the past few years, I know you haven’t lost anything, you are only 29, for crying out loud.'”

“I wasn’t sure if we were just going to chat, but then I realised, ‘Oh my God, he definitely wants to sign me!’ ”

A tale of two strikers

September 21, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 2 comments

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… and few who witnessed Sir Alex Ferguson’s ecstatic dance down the touchline as Manchester United’s Michael Owen wheeled away from the vanquished’s goal could doubt which it was for the Scot. Owen, the free-transfer striker picked up on a whim and against all sane advice, became an Old Trafford hero in an instant. How stark the contrast then at the other end, where Carlos Tevez – Owen’s predecessor – crouched prone in disbelief.

Unsurprisingly the Argentinian’s every step was loudly jeered by the home support. United fans, ill-prepared for players jumping ship, turned tables on Tevez. No longer the total support offered towards the end of last season. And as Tevez walked out of the Old Trafford tunnel just short of the 1.30pm kick-off he looked genuinely surprised by the reaction.

The Argentinian was his usual self – all hustle and bustle – harrying Ben Foster into a mistake for City’s first equaliser. The City striker nearly scored too, striking the post with a first half shot. But the £25.5 million striker – or £47 million depending on which report you believe – then fluffed his best chance of the afternoon. The kind of miss Ferguson was not ready to pay over-the-odds for.

Owen by contrast waited patiently on the bench for his opportunity. Up front Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov were causing significant trouble to City’s outrageously over-priced central defensive partnership of Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré, benefiting from another magical display from the evergreen Ryan Giggs.

Then came Owen’s moment, collecting Giggs’ sumptuous slide rule pass and striking it past Shay Given in the City goal with the outside of his right boot. It was a fabulous finish for which Owen can now be forgiven his Liverpool past. Something which the player is acutely aware.

“If there was any doubt before then maybe this has sealed the deal,” Owen said after the match.

“Me coming to Manchester United was always going to create a bit of noise but even if they didn’t take to me it is still a privilege to play for Manchester United. The fact I’ve scored the winner in the Manchester derby hasn’t sunk in yet.

“It’s one of those few moments in my career that I’ll look back on and see it as one of the highlights. To score in a derby is great, but for it to be as dramatic as that, you’d have to see it to believe it. It was such an entertaining game and it must be one of the best televised games of all time.

“As soon as they scored I heard the announcement which said there were four minutes, so immediately I thought that we might get a couple of chances. When they score, you think ‘that’s it, it’s probably going to be a draw’, but you never stop believing that you can do it.”

Manager Sir Alex was typically effusive in praise of former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle player. A manager who is always ready to back his own judgement, Ferguson was hardly going to do anything else.

“Michael was only on for something like 17 minutes,” said the Scot. “He was the best man to be on there when the game is going to be in their penalty box. There is no one better at taking chances.

“His positional play, first touch and finish were absolutely superb. World class.”

A lot more than could be said for Tevez.

Owen shaping up to be season’s bargain

July 27, 2009 Tags: Opinion 3 comments

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.

Today’s April Fool joke is … Michael Owen

July 3, 2009 Tags: Opinion 22 comments

Where do you turn if two high profile attacking players leave and your number one transfer target heads elsewhere? You get out the cheque book and spend some of your £100 million summer transfer budget. Right? Wrong! In fact, you fall further into your dystopian nightmare in which public rejection, is followed by public humiliation. Get out the stocks – it’s time to become a public laughing stock.

In this footballing torment, you might even bring in a washed up, ageing ‘striker’ who hasn’t scored a goal in six months, with an injury record that reads broken metatarsal, knee ligament damage, double hernia operation, thigh strain and countless hamstring strains. Then you wake up and fall to your knees in prayer. Say it ain’t so. Michael Owen signs for Manchester United!

But it is so and manager Sir Alex Ferguson is known to be a long time fan of Owen. Indeed, the boss tried has to sign the player three times – first aged 14 in 1994, second on his return from Real Madrid in 2005, and then again a year later before the player suffered a serious knee injury at the World Cup in Germany.

Owen may be only 29, but his footballing peak was 11 full years ago, with that goal against Argentina in Saint-Etienne. His record at Newcastle isn’t bad in a poor team  – the former Liverpool player made 79 appearances for the Barcodes and scored 30 goals in four seasons. But his last league goal was on 10 January against West Ham, and his form so poor that friend Alan Shearer even dropped him from the Toon team in their desperate fight against relegation last season. His star has fallen so far that Hull and Stoke were apparently fighting it out for his signature, while Wigan and Blackburn publicly questioned the player’s bottle and ability.

In fact, anybody who followed Owen over the closing months will have seen a striker stripped of all his pace, confidence and desire. Without that there is little left of value in the player. Yet, Sir Alex has moved quickly following the failure to sign Olympique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, in a move that smacks of total desperation.

Let’s hope that Owen, even if fit, will be little more than an experienced insurance policy against injuries to Wayne Roony or Dimitar Berbatov. Most United fans would prefer to trust in the youth of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. More worrying still is what the signing says about Wayne Rooney’s hopes of playing a central role for United next season. In Sir Alex’ prefered 4-2-3-1 system, there’s little room for both unless the younger Scouser is once again pushed towards the wing.

Ferguson’s stock is high, of course, but ultimately United supporters will find it hard to forgive Owen’s Liverpool loving history. A vociferously celebrated winning goal at the Kop End would be a good start.