x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Michael Owen can prove he still has the hunger at Stoke City

Owen has been very unlucky with injuries, but he achieved more in the early part of his career than most players ever manage.

Michael Owen had a frustrating time at Manchester United.
Michael Owen had a frustrating time at Manchester United.

After watching him destroy Argentina's defence in the 1998 World Cup, most people would have thought Michael Owen would be an England mainstay well into his 30s. But Owen has not added to his 89 caps for four years.

I've read a lot of criticism of Owen recently, chiefly his supposed lack of enthusiasm for football. Such abuse is nothing new; he was hammered by Newcastle United fans, accused of being a wage thief. I've played at Newcastle and if the fans are not happy they're not shy about it.

There are two sides to every story. For Newcastle fans, their club were paying a fortune to someone who was always injured. You can almost understand their feelings, yet Owen didn't ask to be injured.

To accuse him of lacking passion for football now is also wrong. He could have just stopped playing this summer. Plenty of players have retired before 32, Owen's current age.

Having played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle and Manchester United he certainly doesn't need the money.

People say he's more interested in horses. Really? Do they know him that well to claim that? He owns his own stables, but why not? And his other passion hasn't been to the detriment of his football career.

Owen has been very unlucky with injuries, but he achieved more in the early part of his career than most players ever manage.

He exploded on the scene for Liverpool and England as a teenager. He was fearless and frighteningly fast. He would play one-twos and run off the shoulders of defenders, which they hate. If they took him down they usually gave away a penalty.

Owen got into good areas around the box, but it was his blistering pace which allowed him to leave his man trailing and get a good shot at goal. He finished well.

I played against him many times for United against Liverpool. I never spoke to him, though. Why would I do that? I was there to win, not befriend Liverpool's players.

I wasn't surprised when he left Liverpool for Madrid because he wanted to win trophies. You don't win league titles at Liverpool.

Liverpool fans weren't devastated when he left like they were with Robbie Fowler, Owen's old strike partner, maybe an early sign that there was a distance between him and supporters.

Owen lasted a season in Madrid. You need to be more than a goal-scorer there and Owen didn't learn Spanish, which was a mistake.

They invested a lot of money in him, he should have embraced the culture, just as every player who moves to England should learn English.

Carlos Tevez has been slaughtered for not speaking English, but I watched an interview with him last week in English and understood everything he was trying to say.

Owen moved to Newcastle where he could have been revered. Instead, he was hit by injuries. He admitted that injury had robbed him some of his pace, so I was surprised when he joined Manchester United, especially as former Liverpool players don't tend to go down too well at Old Trafford.

Then I looked at the logic. He was free, he usually scored goals and he would get some great service as United player.

At the very least, he could have been an impact substitute. The key was avoiding injuries. Sadly, he started just 18 games in three years, though he did come off the bench 34 times and scored a few notable goals. He wasn't a flop, he just didn't play anywhere as much as he would have hoped.

Yet he still scored a last-minute winner in a Manchester derby, still scored a hat-trick in a Champions League match and still made the bench in a Champions League final over Dimitar Berbatov.

There wasn't a queue of clubs waiting to sign him this summer when he left United.

Clubs were nervous about his injury record, and his wages are not cheap either. He reduced his options by saying that he wanted to stay in England's north-west. Some saw that as a lack of passion.

Nonsense. He wants to stay near his family and it's not like he hasn't proved that he can travel. Besides, there are lots of clubs within an hour of his home near Chester. He signed a pay-as-you-play deal with Stoke City this week.

If Owen's fit then he'll score goals at Stoke. He and Peter Crouch may make a little and large foil for each other, though it will be interesting to see how Owen adjusts to Stoke's direct and physical approach which has been so effective for them.

Stoke need to accommodate Owen's strengths and get the ball to his feet. Do that and he could prove his many doubters wrong.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

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