Martin Samuel: If Owen is fit, it will be like the cavalry arriving
04 July 2009 01:21
For everybody, this is a move that works. For Michael Owen, for Sir Alex Ferguson, for Fabio Capello, for Wayne Rooney, for Manchester United, for England. There is no loser here because it is a gamble that the club can well afford.
If it comes off, there are dividends never previously imagined; if it does not, all sides are merely back where they started.
The worst that can happen is that Manchester United do not win a fourth title but, having lost Cristiano Ronaldo, the player that provided the bulk of their goals, it could well have worked out like that anyway. Certainly, Ferguson will see this acquisition as one that gives him a greater chance, rather than the raising of the flag of surrender.
Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney
It is a coup from left field that will surprise and disquiet in equal measure. Face it, what defender would truly enjoy facing a fit, firing Owen in a Manchester United shirt next season? If Ferguson can restore him to former glories, there will be no finer goalscorer in the Premier League.
There are benefits for all here because, despite his eagerness to accept the challenge, Rooney was never going to fill the hole left by Ronaldo's departure. Do the maths. Ronaldo scored 67 goals in two seasons for United, Rooney scored 38, so to pick up the slack he would not have to score another 29 because that total does not include the goals he scored in the first place.
To compensate fully for Ronaldo's departure, Rooney would need both totals, making 105 in two seasons, substantially above the amount that elevated Ronaldo to the status of the most expensive player in football history. It was never going to happen. Help was required. And what a fit Owen represents is the cavalry coming over the hill with a reinforcement of goals.
The sums will have been the worry for Ferguson. Losing Ronaldo the player will have hurt, but it is when his goals were removed from the equation that Ferguson would have realised United's numbers no longer added up. And while a player such as Karim Benzema has more potential than a 29-year-old with a recent history of injury problems (and who no longer holds down a place in an international squad that finds room for Carlton Cole), most foreign players take a season to acclimatise to English football.
Ferguson has no time for that. He needs a man who will hit the ground running, which Owen will, if fit. Even if he scores at the rate of his previous two seasons with Newcastle United, which have been dismissed as failures, he will be a vast improvement on the departing favourite, Carlos Tevez.
Owen scored 23 goals in 62 games in a poor Newcastle team, at a ratio of one every 2.69 games. Tevez scored 34 in 99 games in a magnificent Manchester United team, a rate of 2.97. Last season, his ratio was 3.4.
There are other, more troubling, statistics, of course, not least Owen's record with Rooney at international level, which suggests incompatibility. It is said that Owen requires an inferior as a foil, doing the work so he can score the goals. And it is true that the statistics suggest he fares better with Emile Heskey, although the same can be said of Rooney, too.
It is a different Owen that United are signing, though. It is not the player who must have assumed he was first on England's teamsheet at his peak and that the rest had to work to feed him.
This is a man whose pride has been hurt and who is being kept out of the England squad by Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor. A man who must, in World Cup year, demonstrate that he can be effective with Rooney, now established as uppermost in Capello's thoughts. He was never going to get that chance and now it has fallen in his lap; right now, there should be no more willing team player than Owen.
Rooney and Owen
As for Capello, this is a big slice of luck . It has been falsely presumed that he is not an admirer of Owen. This is not the case.
He immediately identified his limitations as a player, and his style did not fit naturally into England's team shape. Therefore, he has been happy to try other options while Owen has been in indifferent form for Newcastle. He does know, however, the worth of a predatory goalscorer in a tournament.
Owen may still be an impact substitute rather than a starting player but having tried out a series of strikers who are plainly not world class, there is no doubt that, fit and scoring for a major team, he would be very much back in Capello's thoughts. Also, to forge a relationship with Rooney would take his worth to the England manager to a new level.
So it makes sense all round that Owen should sign for Manchester United. And it proves one more thing. That the daft brochure hawking a great player like he was a new line at Boden's remains one of the most misguided, chuckleheaded events in the field of sports management.
The best advertisement for Owen was always the player, not the image or the brand. He scores goals. Lots of goals. And a good judge like Ferguson was never in need of a catalogue to remind him.