Michael Owen: Right or Wrong to sign for United?

Monday, 11 January 2010 ·

Summer 2009, Michael Owen is on the market and out of contract. His agent sends a brochure detailing his strengths and achievements as a player and England's currently-playing highest goalscorer is desperate for a club.
Knowing he is way down the pecking order for a place in the World Cup squad, with Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Emile Heskey and even Darren Bent ahead of him in Fabio Capello's mind, was it the right decision for Michael to join United? When he signed in the summer, some pundits thought that this could be the perfect platform for Michael to display his talents and give Capello no option but to take him to South Africa. One of the many arguments put forth being that his name alone carries a certain
amount of fear on the continent: does the name of Darren Bent really inspire fear into an opponent? Plus his record speaks for itself at this level: 40 goals in 89 games is a phenomenal record for any player especially at international level.
Plus, this is a player that scores in the important matches. If you analyse Owen's game in recent years, because of the injuries he has been forced to adapt due to losing a half yard of that once-blistering pace, but can still race away from a defender (as we have seen at United this season) but his game is not solely about that now. He plays on the shoulder of defenders making runs across and occasionally deep to collect the ball, and when he came on as a sub in the Liverpool match at Anfield, it was his presence and runs across the defensive four that caused Liverpool the only real problems of the afternoon.
Owen's stats for this season are 9 starts plus 15 substitute appearances scoring 7 goals from 27 shots of which 12 were on target. That works out at 13% ratio of goals:shots and 58% ratio of goals:shots on target Most would agree that a striker benefits from a healthy run of games, but 7 goals from just over 700 minutes on the pitch is a good return - from a free transfer.
But statistics can often be misleading. What we need to consider is whether Owen's contribution to this United side has been good enough overall and whether or not Owen was logical in choosing to go to United where there are two very expensive and complimentary players in Berbatov and Rooney and two excellent young strikers in Macheda and Wellbeck.
Consider the match against Birmingham. One-nil down and not breaking through the Birmingham defence despite having the majority of the possession, the only breakthrough coming courtesy of an own-goal by Scott Dann (that was debatable and strongly protested by the Birmingham players) Ferguson chose not to put Owen on, going instead with Giggs and the recently signed and inexperienced Diouf instead - and not using the option of a third substitute. This is a decision that, based on the remarkable amount of penalty-box action (most suited to a predator like Owen) is a strange decision by Ferguson. It is this game, in particular, which should give Owen cause for concern as this has been symptomatic of his season so far. In most games, he has only been put on as a last resort which seriously hampers Owen's chances of making the 23-man squad for South Africa.
With friendly matches to come before the tournament, Owen needs a run of games for him to prove that he is worthy of a place in the squad. So, the question is: should he have gone to Man Utd or should he have chosen another club where his chances of starting would be significantly higher and therefore much better placed to realise his World Cup ambitions? There was reportedly interest from Liverpool, but if he had of joined Liverpool, he would be in the same situation as he is at United with Fernando Torres the main main in a 4-2-3-1 formation that would not suit Owen's style of play. Many Liverpool fans argued for his return but there are some who think that Benitez still
harbours some resentment at the way Owen decided to leave the club in 2004. Joining Manchester United, Liverpool's fiercest rivals, did nothing to repair the damage from 2004 in some supporters' eyes. Both Everton and Manchester City were rumoured to be interested as well as Serie A outfit, Roma. With much of the England squad coming from teams outside the traditional 'top-four' there was no real need for Owen to join a top-four club to realise his England ambitions.
So why choose Manchester United? A strange decision for both parties and one which, come the end of the season, based upon the first half of his first season with United, will leave Owen watching the World Cup from the comfort of his sofa in Chester.


Graham Matheson

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