Michael Owen is desperate to shrug off the injury-prone tag that Manchester United's new recruit feels he has unfairly been given. Owen will get the chance to spearhead United's attack this season following Sir Alex Ferguson's surprise statement that he will not be doing any more transfer business this summer. He will do so wearing the No 7 shirt vacated by Cristiano Ronaldo and accompanied by a great deal of scepticism about his general fitness, a situation Fabio Capello has reflected on more than one occasion has kept Owen out of England contention.
Yet the former Liverpool star does not feel the facts bear out such opinions. Although he accepts a broken metatarsal and subsequent cruciate knee ligament injury, caused as a direct result of rushing back to action too quickly in order to appear at the 2006 World Cup, Owen believes there is little wrong with his body. "It does irritate me that so many people have doubts," he said, having made 65 appearances in the final two years of his four-year contract on Tyneside. "But if there is one thing I am angered by, the injury thing would be it. "There is no doubt I have had injuries in my career. But there is a long list of players that have had a broken metatarsal.
"I was foolish trying to rush back for the World Cup and my leg had just come out of plaster. "But I played 33 and 32 games in the last two years in a team that was not in Europe and did not go on a decent cup run. Still I was continually labelled injury-prone, which gets up my nose. "I am 29 and have played over 500 games for club and country. That says it all." What Owen does accept the need to prove is the retention of ability that has made him only the fourth striker in England history to score 40 goals for his country. "In certain parts, people do have a justification to have a go at me," he said. "I didn't set the world alight in the last year at Newcastle. That is no-one's fault but mine. We were not playing well as a team and I wasn't doing my bit either." His observation clearly didn't put Ferguson off signing a player he spent so many years trying to stop, but the United manager does not feel Owen was helped by the handling he received during the early years.
Ferguson has not forgotten Owen's initial impact on the Premier League by Liverpool, which was followed up with his momentous appearance the World Cup in France, when his career was really ignited. The United boss freely admits he probably would not have swooped for the striker had Karim Benzema not been caught up in the whirlwind that has become Real Madrid's summer spending spree. However, once Benzema opted to link up with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, Ferguson went for Owen. And, while plenty of supporters have their doubts, he is convinced the move will be a fruitful one for all parties. "Michael gives us experience in the penalty box, which is vital," said Ferguson. "He has always had that little knack of losing defenders in the last third. "I know he will score a lot of goals for us. He has been great at that for years."
* PA Sport