KUALA LUMPUR // Michael Owen feels like a 21-year-old again - and he is convinced his move to Manchester United will get him back into the England squad. After a difficult year at Real Madrid, followed by four tortuous seasons with Newcastle, Owen is ready to relaunch himself on football's greatest stage after jumping at the opportunity to join Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
To outsiders, it was a stunning move, resurrecting a career that appeared to be heading for the buffers. Even to Owen it was an unexpected development. But there is no disguising his enthusiasm as he looks ahead to a campaign that will see United attempt to become the first club in English history to win four consecutive league championships. "I feel like I did eight years ago," said Owen, who made a dream debut for United on Saturday, scoring the late winner in a 3-2 victory over a Malaysia X1.
"There are so many players on my wavelength - world-class players. I just know this move is going to be fantastic for me. "When you sign for Manchester United there are that many things you think about; the players alongside you, playing at Old Trafford, the men who are going to create chances for you. "Then you wake up the following morning and realise you could win the League or the Champions League. It just goes on and on. It is a very exciting prospect."
Messages of support have come from unlikely quarters. Jamie Carragher for a start who, as a football man rather than a Liverpool player, is delighted such an old friend is back where he belongs. And, if all goes well, it is certain someone else might be interested too: the England manager Fabio Capello. The season that starts next month ends with the World Cup, and, the interest is mutual. "I have never given up on England," said Owen.
"I have been in every preliminary squad before it is pared down. I have had a letter every time. I know from that the manager is keeping an eye on me." An international recall would offer Owen the opportunity to score the nine goals he needs to jump from being the fourth highest scorer in England history to join Sir Bobby Charlton on his record mark of 49. As Charlton burst into the room where Owen was discussing the matter, looking for a folder he left behind at an earlier meeting, the comparison was there to be made.
"I could catch him now because he is a bit older and has just left the room," laughed Owen. "I have nine goals to catch him, so that is probably a year and a half. We'll see." A combination of United fans' long-standing antipathy for all things England and Owen's past injury record on national duty means the former Liverpool star would be well advised to stay clear of the topic for now. He is also keen to avoid discussing his association with Anfield. Nevertheless, Owen does find himself in the strange position of knowing his goals might help United overtake Liverpool's long-standing record of 18 league titles. Not that such a prospect - or his return to Merseyside in a United shirt - will bother him.
"I used to play for Liverpool and I know a couple of the players, but there have been a lot of changes there," he said. "I am quite mature about football. I don't feel the need to react if people sing a song about me. It is not in my make-up." There is a certain irony in the shift of emphasis in Owen's career that has taken place since his Old Trafford move was confirmed. The 29-year-old is now on the cusp of a complete rejuvenation, gone from the radar of Phil Brown's Hull to the reality of Ferguson's United.
Owen sums it up neatly: "In the end, the one man in world football who you would want a good opinion from is the one man who wanted to sign me." * PA Sport