Taking the Michael
Skysports.com assesses Michael Owen's possible free transfer to Manchester United.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 03/07/09 6:34pm
It is understood that Michael Owen, who spent eight years as a professional at Liverpool after rising through the club's Academy, is undergoing a full medical at Manchester United as he prepares to sensationally join the Premier League champions, and now skysports.com analyses the potential signing.
Presumably the 29-year-old is not a fan of the Mersey Ferry or the Albert Dock because, if reports are correct, he would probably be best advised not to make any tourist trips to Liverpool city centre in the near future.
Owen is not completely doing the dirty by moving directly from Liverpool to North West rivals United but, despite spending time at Real Madrid and Newcastle in between, the move will still be frowned upon by supporters at Anfield, while those at Old Trafford could also question the merits.
There are, however, other factors to consider, rather than just the hurt feelings of fans, when evaluating the possible United arrival of the Chester-born striker who, at the end of the day, never commanded the popularity of other homegrown Kop idols of his era such as Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher or Steven Gerrard.
Having run down his reported £120,000-a-week contract at Newcastle, the 89-time England cap is a free agent and a host of sides, both at home and abroad, are showing an interest after his management company, Wasserman Media Group (WMG), circulated what was essentially an advertising brochure to prospective new employers.
Hull City and Stoke have gone public with their interest, while Olympiakos and Roma have been suggested as possible European destinations, and moves to the United States of America and Japan have also been speculated over.
But it is United who look to have won the race for Owen's signature. Is Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson gambling? What are the benefits of the move? Where could it all go wrong?
Reports of the content of the WMG document described it as offering Auto Trader-esque descriptions of Owen's 'Brand values'. 'Good looking', 'Sincere', 'Respected' and 'Charismatic' creating thoughts of 'One careful owner', but it appears to have struck the right chord with Ferguson.
Primarily that is because the Scot is desperate for attacking options after losing Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this summer and, with United having missed out on Real Madrid-bound Karim Benzema at a time when alternative options are becoming increasingly sparse, Owen undoubtedly has the potential to fill a void with a proven goalscoring track record and a habit of producing the goods in big games.
At Liverpool the forward averaged 1.88 games-per-goal after netting 158 times in 297 appearances, winning the Ballon d'Or in 2001, while in one season at Real that mean changed to 2.69 games-per-goal and altered only slightly to 2.63 games-per-goal at Newcastle.
Ferguson will be getting a striker with undoubted abilities, who can act as an excellent alternative from the bench.
The world has not been set alight when Owen has played with Wayne Rooney, a craver of the main striking role that any new face will occupy, at international level and Dimitar Berbatov will be offered the opportunity to find form in a second season in Manchester following a less-than-convincing debut campaign.
That leaves Owen as a substitute but he appears happy to accept the role, which he predominantly occupied during his 43 appearances for Real to make his 2.69 games-per-goal record impressive, despite suggestions of a pay-per-play contract and a desperation to catch the eye of England manager Fabio Capello in a World Cup season.
One other factor to consider in Ferguson's thinking is that the past offers proof Owen benefits from playing alongside a partner who can hold the ball up, such as Emile Heskey or Alan Shearer.
Injuries, of which more later, have forced a change in style from pace to penalty-box predator and that could offer the perfect foil to the likes of Berbatov, Danny Welbeck or Federico Macheda when United are looking to pick a lock.
A free transfer does create questions about where the £80million earned from the world-record sale of Ronaldo to Real is heading amidst increasing speculation of mounting club debt under the Glazer family and only lingering rumours of a bid for Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero, but it also proves simple, good business sense, reducing risk through small financial outlay. Another Englishman will also prove handy when meeting UEFA Champions League rules on British players.
But there is one word which Owen will have nightmares about - injury. In four seasons with Newcastle he made only 79 appearances, hitting a low in 2006/07 when a torn cruciate ligament at the previous summer's World Cup restricted the forward to only three matches in the entire season. That makes a reported WMG description 'Fit and healthy' a little difficult to take seriously.
Owen also struggled at the end of last season as Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League when niggling fitness complaints limited appearances and form as he failed to score in his final 12 games, last finding the net when opening the scoring in a 2-2 draw with West Ham at St James' Park in January.
United, though, are obviously no mugs and they will be well aware of the fitness concerns. Owen's troublesome knees are understood to have undergone their own initial medical prior to his trip to United's Carrington training ground on Friday and the general consensus is that the assessment failed to identify any major problems.
Ferguson has also proved that he is not afraid of bringing in players who are in the latter stages of their careers, supposedly a time when footballers are prone to injury, if he believes he can coax out the neccesary attributes to the benefit of his team, as has been the case with Teddy Sheringham, Henrik Larsson and Edwin van der Sar.
United will be getting a man that fits the criteria they require, no matter how unpopular the move may prove with sections of supporters at either end of the East Lancs Road, a player who possess undoubted skill, is content to play a bit part for a justifiable financial outlay, and one who offers an alternative to other squad members. If , and it is a big if, injuries can be avoided, the move appears to be an intelligent piece of business.