Owen's rolling back the years as Rio admits to having doubts over striker
27 July 2009 10:44
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It says much for the remarkable recent decline in Michael Owen's standing that his new Manchester United team-mate Rio Ferdinand admitted to having his doubts when the former England centre forward arrived at Old Trafford earlier this month.
'Initially I was surprised,' said Ferdinand.
'I was thinking about it like a fan and weighing it up.'
Still got it: Manchester United new boy Michael Owen fires in the fourth goal as his side destroy Hangzhou Greentown 8-2
Initial doubts: Rio Ferdinand admits to having been initially surprised United signed Owen
Nevertheless, only four games in to his new life, Owen would appear to have made some rather accomplished looking steps on to the road to re-establishing his reputation as one his country's most gifted and natural goalscorers.
Before Sunday's final Asian tour game against Hangzhou Greentown in China, Owen had played 115 minutes for United and scored twice. By the time he was replaced at half-time by Wayne Rooney on Sunday, he had scored two more as United ambled to an 8-2 victory.
His first two goals were typical Owen goals, too. Decisive and unfussy. On Sunday he added another of that ilk, poking in Nani's low cross to give United the lead in the 24th minute.
Then, just before half-time, he scored an altogether more spectacular goal, taking a Dimitar Berbatov flick on his chest and dispatching a technically-perfect falling volley in to the far corner from 18 yards.
It was another impressive scoring cameo from Owen and one wonders just how he allowed his form and confidence to drop so low during his time at Newcastle.
It has, however, been the general nature of the 29-year-old's all-round play that has already given Ferdinand cause to re-evaluate and has convinced United manager Sir Alex Ferguson that he did the right thing when taking the former Liverpool player on a free transfer.
On two occasions, once in Malaysia and once in Seoul on Friday, Owen has struck the post. Both efforts were impressive. The first a back flick across goal and the other an instinctive toe-poke from a low cross.
In those two moments, as much as when scoring his four goals, Owen was instantly recognisable as the man who has scored 40 goals in 89 appearances for his country and contributed 248 during his eight years at Anfield.
So too was he as he harried a defender in to making a mistake last Friday before presenting Berbatov with a scoring chance. As was always the case, Owen has looked most dangerous out here when sitting on the shoulder of the last defender.
By all accounts he is not quite as quick as he once was, but at times in Asia that has not been apparent.
Time will come: Wayne Rooney and Owen are yet to play together for United
'This is not the acid test but given his understanding of play in the last third I think he will give us goals,' said Ferguson yesterday. 'His overall contribution has been great.
'He is very clever in the final third. He knows when to make his runs and when to hold his runs. His experience will be vital for us and things are looking good.
'I gave him the No 7 jersey that has been worn by some high profile players. I am not concerned with what supporters think. The important thing is to give it to someone who is confident to carry it.'
Owen played 45 minutes with Berbatov in Sunday and has also played with young Federico Macheda on tour. As United headed to Munich last night for Wednesday's Audi Cup tournament, he is yet to spend any time on the field with Wayne Rooney.
Rooney — as intelligent as they come in the modern game — likes nothing better than to do his work a few yards behind a central striking partner. If Owen can stay fit this season then Rooney may just have been handed the type of partner he has always wanted. That, of course, will be good news for United and for England in the lead up to the World Cup.
There is a long way to go yet, of course, and Owen's fitness will be key to the outcome. These games have been reasonably competitive but have possessed nothing like the physical edge of the Barclays Premier League.
Last night again, however, Owen provided further evidence to suggest that his signing may not be anything like the gamble even Ferguson himself has purported it to be.
On another hot and humid night, United played some terrific attacking football against the weakest opposition of the tour. Along with Owen, Berbatov and young Zoran Tosic scored spectacular goals in the first half before Ryan Giggs scored a second half hat-trick and Nani also contributed a fine goal.
Happily for the home team, they did manage to score two late goals before United left-back Patrice Evra provoked much mirth on the visitors' bench as he managed to strike a post from no more than two yards out.
Owen certainly would have scored. So too would have Ferguson.
MANCHESTER UNITED: (4-4-2) Van der Sar (Foster 45mins); Fabio, Ferdinand (Brown 58mins), Evans, Evra; Nani (Park 58mins), Scholes (Anderson 58mins), Fletcher (Giggs 58mins), Tosic; Berbatov (Gibson 69mins); Owen (Rooney 45mins)