Manchester United move could make Michael Owen central to Fabio Capello's plans again
03 July 2009 06:26
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It was a cold-eyed assessment. Maybe Sir Alex Ferguson has settled on the same for the 29 year-old at Manchester United, although if he plays a more pivotal role at Old Trafford he could still force his way more centrally into Capello's thinking.
The Italian is nothing if not an arch pragmatist. He has made clear he will select on form, not reputation. He has only occasionally grown exasperated during his time in charge of England and often it has centred on the media debate over his selections. He even mocked reporters when reminding them that they had clamoured for Steven Gerrard to be given a central position and that when he did so, against France last year, he failed.
Owen has been a more constant case. He was involved, also, in that game and it should not be forgotten that Capello included him in his squad for his first two games. He was not impressed on either occasion. Not impressed by Owen's fitness, movement or team play. There were also question marks, it seems, over his role in the squad as a personality as much as a player and if he fitted into the new team ethic.
So Capello did what he always does. He slammed the door in Owen's face, before leaving it slightly ajar. Owen would not be consigned to history but neither, Capello said, would he rely on history – a reference to the oft-cited 40 goals in 89 appearances Owen has for his country – when it came to selection.
In truth Capello is not believed to particularly rate Owen. He does not see him fitting into the team shape or tactics he wants to use. His ideal would be a Didier Drogba or a Fernando Torres leading his attack. A powerful, mobile presence. And after having high hopes for Dean Ashton, only to see injury rule him out, he has settled, for now, on Emile Heskey. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Carlton Cole all sit ahead of Owen in the pecking order.
England have hardly struggled for goals in Owen's absence. No country has scored more frequently in qualification for next summer's World Cup but Capello also knows that, along with goalkeeper and right-back, no player has convinced him that he can be England's centre-forward in South Africa. Heskey has come closest but his age and injury record are a concern.
Capello has, tellingly, overlooked Owen even when England have faced an injury crisis. Indeed before the qualifier against Ukraine on Aprl 1, Capello's camp talked about pushing Shaun Wright-Phillips into a second-striker role rather than recall Owen if Wayne Rooney was not fit. Similarly last summer, when Owen withdrew from a squad citing a "contagious virus", only to then turn up to watch England play at Wembley, Capello had no intention of including the fit-again striker for the subsequent trip to Trinidad and Tobago.
And yet Capello is prepared to give Owen a chance. He and England general manager Franco Baldini have often gone out of their way to watch him play. On the final day of last season Owen, having lost his first-team place at Newcastle United, came on for the final 24 minutes against Aston Villa. Had he impressed he may have earned a recall, with Capello's forward options restricted. He did not and it only confirmed the current regime's thinking.
Capello will, however, be delighted Owen is moving to United. Can he force his way into playing regularly? Can he remain fit? Can he forge a partnership with Rooney at club level having rarely done so for country? If all three questions can gain a positive answer then he will earn that England place. After all there is one up for grabs even if Owen has plenty of work to do to convince Capello of his worth. It may be no bad thing for a player who has lived so long on reputation and is now faced with a manager who does not care for such things.