Manchester United to take a punt on Michael Owen
It just goes to show how quickly things can change for the Premier League champions. Owen is five years past his best, the victim of injury after injury inflicted on a body simply not built to withstand the rigours of life as an elite footballer. He has played just 80 games in four unhappy years since his £16 million move to Newcastle. After the indignity of their relegation, he has been courted by Hull, rejected by Blackburn. His star has waned so much as to be all but extinguished. Ferguson has surely never before countenanced signing a player with such a chequered recent history both on and off the treatment table. Manchester United's fans, not placated by the signing of Luis Antonio Valencia, are desperate to see their Portuguese panacea replaced by a Ribery or a Silva, a name to get the blood pulsing once more at Old Trafford. Owen's signing is unlikely to be the salve they crave. A jibe did the rounds in Manchester last week that, while City were out plucking a superstar from Barcelona, United were picking up some bloke from Wigan. Owen's arrival would be greeted with equal glee and scorn at Eastlands and Anfield, a sign that United's empire is starting to crumble. No doubt, in their defence, United's supporters could point to the success of Henrik Larsson's brief spell at Old Trafford, the only deal in Ferguson's career comparable with a move for Owen. But Larsson came for one glorious swansong at the end of his career, Ferguson allowing him to have one last dalliance at Europe's top table. Owen, on the other hand, would come with resurrection in mind. Amid the disappointment of the last five years, the sense of talent wasted and opportunity lost, it is easy to forget that Owen was once the best striker in England, a former European Footballer of the Year, and a shoo-in to break Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record for the national side. Ferguson admired him then, and is canny enough to know that such talent does not just disappear. True, he may only get 20 games out of Owen each season. But his record, even at Newcastle, is enough to suggest that he will still provide a dozen or so goals, more, perhaps, because Owen is not the sort of striker to "get something out of nothing," as Alan Shearer put it, a gift demanded of forwards at struggling sides but not likely to be required at United. Instead, he would simply have to convert the expert promptings of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. If the move comes off, it would confirm that Ferguson will switch back to a 4-4-2, playing Owen off the bustling Englishman or the laconic Bulgarian as occasions demand. Owen would be in a role he understands, and with probably the only manager in the world who can save his career in his corner. He will never be as quick as he once was – the knee trouble has seen to that – but he is still a supreme poacher, a man capable of shouldering some of the goalscoring burden placed on Berbatov and Rooney, as well as Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck, by Ronaldo's departure. He is an expensive luxury, as Sam Allardyce observed. Perhaps, then, Old Trafford is the only place for him, because United can certainly afford one.
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