If I’m completely honest, I’ve enjoyed something of a rollercoaster relationship with Michael Owen, over the past few years. When I first heard he could be heading to Old Trafford, I was adamant we shouldn’t sign him, “it’ll make us a laughing stock” were my exact words, following the whole brochure affair and his struggles on Tyneside.
Then I allowed myself to become convinced that he’d be a great signing, once the deal had been done, even going as far as to put a cheeky fiver on him finishing Premier League top scorer- not my most savvy wager admittedly- and telling anyone who’d listen “if he stays fit, he’ll score more than Tevez this season, trust me” – I wont bring up the stats to show you how wrong I was.
Then came THAT derby goal, where even the most critical Owen detractor had to warm to him and seemingly accept him into the bosom of the United family. Since then however, there’s been times when I’ve doubted the wisdom in keeping Owen at the club, there was the Jamie Carragher testimonial, where his decision to wear a Liverpool shirt again, made me positive he should never be allowed to don the Red of United again.
Once I’d “calmed down” I realised Owen’s worth, but was left disappointed when he got injured in the Carling Cup final of 2010 – when towards the end of the season we would really need him.
Since then, I’ve questioned Owen’s value to the United squad not based just on his fitness and performances but more because of my unadulterated love for Danny Welbeck and my worries that his progress at Old Trafford may be scuppered somewhat by Owen. I felt we needed to move forward and Welbeck was the future, while Owen represented the past, however I’ve been proven grossly wrong, mainly due to the former Liverpool hit-man’s attitude.
Owen is willing to play his part for United, however big or small and unlike some modern footballers, won’t kick up a fuss or make silly comments if he doesn’t figure in the more important games.
I’ve always thought Owen one of the worst interviewees of all modern footballers, full of obvious, boring answers that lack passion or even the slightest hint of subjectivity. That view has been changed of late, when I’ve come to realise that just because a footballer is a quiet family man with little enthusiasm for the trappings of fame, or for needless comment, shouldn’t make him the subject of my anger. Paul Scholes didn’t give interviews at all and I don’t recall feeling anything but adulation towards the Ginger Prince.
Recently Owen has risen in my estimation with some honest and refreshing points, both on twitter and via press interviews. Today he’s been quoted as praising the United dieting staff.
The Manchester Evening News notes:
Michael Owen has paid tribute to United’s backroom staff for keeping him tuned up to take advantage of his rare chances.
“Physically, you have to prepare for any opportunity you get as well as mentally,” said Owen.
“That is hard because you are in match-day squads all the time, so you prepare with the team, eat the same, do the same things they do but when you don’t play you don’t use the energy. You are probably getting more days off but putting more energy food in your system and it is a bit of a vicious circle.
“After doing that five or six times you don’t exactly put on weight but you have to be careful. Your body hasn’t played 90 minutes though you are preparing it all the time to do that.
“There is more to it than people thinking ‘well he is fresh and should score a hat-trick’.
“It is tough and it is also a challenge for the staff at United. It is a test for the medical people and the sports science people to get the balance right. They have to manage it to ensure when your chance does come along your body is ready for it.”
“I still feel I have to prove myself every time I play,” he said. “If I was playing every week, you could afford a bad game here or there because you can always score one in the next game and nobody will remember your bad games.
“The Leeds game was my first match of the season and if I didn’t play well I would have a long time to stew on it and people would have a long time to criticise me. It puts the pressure on me.
“I have had some massive games in my career but you almost feel yourself getting nervous more these days because, as I say, it has been a while since I started.
I was recently touched by Owen’s comments regarding the criticism he’s received from some ‘pundits’ claiming he’s at United for money:
“I am not ‘content’ if I am not playing – I don’t want anybody to think that. I get criticised a lot by people who say I don’t play but I pick my money up. I am not proud of that fact. I want to play all the time.
“I am doing a lot of training and putting in a lot of hard work people don’t see. I don’t feel my touch will go or anything like that. But anybody can have a bad game – even the best players in the world.”
Even Owen’s tweets following the Leeds game left me with a lot of respect for the United striker:
“Our fans in the stadium 45 mins after the game singing their hearts out. When I emerged from the dressing room they sang you scouse b******! #magic”
In response to accusations of greed: “For success maybe but if I wanted money the last place I would have signed for is United.”
Sir Alex Ferguson proved yet again why he’s the master, as keeping someone with Owen’s experience and attitude around at Old Trafford, is a win-win situation, even if he doesn’t play, he’s a positive influence on the younger players.
Owen may not be the most exciting man when it comes to being interviewed and if I’m honest I still consider him United’s fourth choice striker, but seeing a player, who’s nearing 32, willing to take his limited chances and defend himself to all the ‘haters’ has made me warm to him. Let’s hope there’s a few more big moments in the career of Michael Owen.