Carling Cup final: Michael Owen looks to break a barren run
If he makes it on to the field for Sunday afternoon's Carling Cup final, he will be making his first appearance in a final for seven years. When he scampered past Lee Dixon into the Millennium Stadium's shadows in 2001 to score his second in a 2-1 FA Cup final win over Arsenal, before helping Liverpool to victory in the Uefa Cup final just days later, he can hardly have imagined that he would have just one more medal to show for the next nine years. That came at Cardiff, seven years ago next week, when he capitalised on slack defending by Mikaël Silvestre to race clear and seal Liverpool's 2-0 League Cup final victory over his current employers. At this stage of his career, Owen, 30, could not be criticised for feeling conflicting emotions if he picked up another medal as an unused substitute, as he did in Liverpool's League Cup win nine years ago. What Sir Alex Ferguson called "a typical Michael Owen goal" a well-timed run in the left channel with a dip of the left shoulder proceeding a shot into the top corner, in the 3-0 beating of West Ham in midweek has certainly put the forward in the manager's thoughts. Even if Ferguson starts Owen on the bench, he feels that with games at the new Wembley traditionally being low-scoring affairs with a decent chance of extra time, Owen is likely to have a significant role to play this afternoon. Ferguson believes that without Wayne Rooney, who has plundered 27 goals, Owen would have featured more prominently this season, particularly with his run of fitness. "He has trained every day here; he has never missed training. He has been terrific, he has never been a problem," Ferguson said. "He looks sharp and I think he has improved as a footballer since coming to us. "His general knowledge of the game, his linking play and his passing... these things have been good since he has come to us. He's done well but the only problem that Michael Owen has got is Wayne Rooney. That's his problem. "I think we are seeing a natural development with Rooney, which we knew was going to happen. If you look at his headers recently, he has been free in every header he has had in the past few weeks. That tells you something." To think that it all started for Rooney, now with a Champions League victory and three straight Premier League titles, with a win in this competition, thanks to the 4-0 hammering of Wigan in Cardiff in 2006. Rooney proudly displayed his medal as his team-mates doused each other in Champagne in dressing-room celebrations that were seen as indicative of how far Manchester United, who were to miss out on the Premier League title for the third straight season, had fallen. But that success, with Cristiano Ronaldo also emerging, and coming shortly after the arrivals of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, was seen as a key stepping stone towards all the success they have enjoyed since. Ferguson is more sympathetic to the competition since it has done away with two-legged ties and certainly enjoyed the semi-final battle with City. That Ronaldo played in last season's penalty shoot-out win over Tottenham shows how seriously he takes it, although the fact that the dressing room was a little more muted also demonstrates how far United have come since 2006. But if United get their hands on yet more silverware this afternoon, the normally-restrained Owen will probably find himself dancing with Rafael.
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