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Owen lifts Man Utd's Euro hopes

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Phil McNulty | 22:30 UK time, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Michael Owen opened up the debates about Manchester United and England as expertly as he unlocked Wolfsburg's defence to announce his return to Europe's elite stage.

England coach Fabio Capello admits Owen is his "tormentor" - the flesh and blood embodiment of the selection dilemma that will face him before the World Cup.

The more goals Owen scores, the more Capello will be tormented. And Sir Alex Ferguson will hope Owen's hat-trick in Germany on Tuesday will be the start of torture that will make the Italian suffer all the way to South Africa.

If Owen maintains the momentum this stunning performance will give him, it should not only make his World Cup selection a formality, it will bolster an Old Trafford assault on the Champions League that will grow in confidence after the win in Wolfsburg.

The Premier League has delivered an impressive show of strength as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United cleared the opening hurdles in comfort and finished top of their groups - but Liverpool's fall at the first fence represents a significant failure for manager Rafael Benitez and his team.

Owen's role as the lethal spearhead in a makeshift United line-up that beat the German champions will hearten Ferguson as he looks for an added goal threat to replace that previously provided by the peerless Cristiano Ronaldo.

Michael Owen celebrates after completing his hat-trickMichael Owen produced a vintage performance against Wolfsburg to seal top spot in their group for United

Dimitar Berbatov continues to flatter to deceive too often, so confirmation that Owen can still deliver the game's most precious commodity in the Champions League will give United's challenge fresh impetus as they prepare for the last 16.

Owen's injury record makes caution an inevitable watchword, but the manner in which he took his goals - especially the third as he raced from the halfway line before completing the coolest of finishes - was enough to suggest he may still write fresh chapters in his career for club and country.

When reflecting on Capello's options for South Africa, I insisted Owen must be on the plane if he is fit. He is quite simply too good to ignore, although his exclusion for the friendly against Brazil in Doha suggested he would need to produce something special to convince Capello of his worth.

And this he did against Wolfsburg - although it is only stage one on a long road to England rehabilitation as part of an Old Trafford career that is still in its infancy.

Owen's goals, scored as they were in the Champions League, will also be noted around Europe as befits a player whose reputation still goes before him, despite the lean years caused by injuries and loss of form.

He sent a message to Ferguson and Capello with such an accomplished renewal of his old instincts, and perhaps a few others besides. The natural gifts remain, the ability to lurk on the shoulder of the last defender, the knack of timing intelligent runs to perfection. Capello will surely not ignore this attractive package if it still in full working order when the time to select his squad comes.

I have stated before that Liverpool boss Benitez should have made a play for Owen in the summer and he has now shown exactly why. I make no apologies for repeating that view and Liverpool's tame exit from the Champions League strengthens the argument.

This not being wise after the event, especially as the prospect of a return to Anfield would have, in all likelihood, been even more enticing to Owen than a deal at Old Trafford.

Those who care to disagree may wish to recall how Andriy Voronin never looked like scoring against Lyon with the sort of chance Owen never looked like missing against Wolfsburg?

At the start of the Champions League, I felt Ferguson could regard it as an achievement just to take United to a third successive final, let alone win the tournament, after the loss of Ronaldo. I still stand by that, but potential opponents in the last 16 will hold no terrors for Ferguson.

Bayern Munich and the Milan giants may be best avoided - but all three English teams would fancy their chances even if drawn against them.

I believe United may yet need extra class in the attacking third to compensate for the loss of Ronaldo to Real Madrid and it is unlikely they will find it outside their current ranks in January.

This may yet prove crucial in the closing stages of the Champions League, but this does not mean they should be written off. If Owen builds on his treble against Wolfsburg and remains in rude health, Ferguson's free transfer signing may prove a masterstroke.

United's performance in reduced circumstances in Germany demonstrated an inner resolve and adaptability in Ferguson's squad, and an ability among his shadow squad to rise to the occasion, especially after the disappointment of a rare home defeat against Besiktas.

And, despite Ferguson's laid-back attitude to finishing top of the Champions League group, it is still preferable and he will delighted United achieved that goal.

Gabriel Obertan looks a player rich in promise and if Ferguson can get enough of his injured players back in short order, then expect them to arrive in the later stages. It remains to be seen, however, if they will have the strength to match the artists of Barcelona should they meet again.

Chelsea's passage into the knockout phase has been relatively untroubled, despite a stodgy conclusion with a draw against Apoel Nicosia at Stamford Bridge in their final game.

Carlo Ancelotti shouts intructions from the touchlineCarlo Ancelotti will expect improvement from Chelsea in the next phase of the competition

I have rarely seen Carlo Ancelotti so dissatisfied this season - and as a man who knows his way around the Champions League, he will be aware such lack-lustre efforts can cause serious damage in the later stages.

There has been the slightest of stumbles since the imperious win at Arsenal, but Chelsea at their finest arguably represent England's best hope of winning the Champions League this season. Coach and players have been around the block several times - and there is a sense in the Chelsea camp that now is the time to reach out and take hold of the big prize that has remained tantalisingly out of their grasp.

Arsenal, too, have been impressive as they breezed through Group H, even in defeat against Olympiakos. I find it hard, however, to see Arsene Wenger's side as potential winners while they continue to exhibit the frailty that has surfaced again recently.

Hugely-gifted but occasionally flawed, they have the individuals to trouble any team when the mood takes them, but they remain too lightweight in key areas and the loss of Robin van Persie for several months is a devastatiing blow to all of their ambitions.

Wenger, however, never takes a backward step in his belief that this Arsenal team can beat anyone - and expect him to speak confidently about overcoming any obstacles that may present themselves.

Liverpool's demise provided one of the stories of the qualifying stage and the disappointments continued right up until the last kick of their Champions League season, with Fiorentina following Lyon in inflicting defeat at Anfield.

Manager Benitez has made much of his reputation off the back of his ability to take them into the business end of the Champions League, but this was a desperate campaign for both him and his players.

It simply never got started. Liverpool were presented with a group that was difficult, but hardly impossible, and it is hard to find anyone who predicted their downfall when the balls came out of the bowl.

A low-key win against Debrecen opened affairs, but this was taken more as a case of first night nerves than a long-term problem. Defeats away to Fiorentina and at home to Lyon made the eventual diagnosis a fatal one in terms of Liverpool's ambitions in a competition Anfield cherishes.

Benitez could not coax another great escape out of Liverpool. With Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard injured at critical times and £20m Alberto Aquilani not available until it was too late, Liverpool failed to deliver on a stage that has suited them so well.

Those injuries may allow them to offer up a measure of ill-fortune as a contributory factor along with a nasty habit of conceding important late goals, but in reality Liverpool have ended up in exactly the place where their performances merited, namely the Europa League.

While we should not forget the performances of Scottish champions Rangers, it is perhaps best that we do. The Champions League found them horribly out of their depth and not the best advert for the quality on show north of the border.

Rangers were crushed at home by Sevilla and the unheralded Unirea Urziceni and were also beaten by Stuttgart, a perhaps inevitable result of the financial difficulties swirling around manager Walter Smith.

So it is left to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United to fly the British flag as the Champions League moves into the knockout stage.

Arsenal would spring a surprise if they went all the way, while Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich expects nothing less under Ancelotti. Manchester United, meanwhile, used that final group game in Germany to sound an ominous warning that you write them off at your peril.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Why is it that everytime Owen scores, England call up is always mentioned??

  • Comment number 2.

    Owen is always mentioned because, as a country we are hopeless romantics and will always back the underdog. However something tells me that Capello will not so emotional and will base his decision on form, as he should rightly with each player he selects.
    For me, if he is fit, there is no better english finisher / poacher than Owen, Rooney is a better player but Owen still "has it"

  • Comment number 3.

    I agree with Jon_Da_Don. Phil, do you have an agenda to get Owen in the England side? Will you make a few quid if he does? Are you secretly related to him? Ok, he's done well this week - but he is still way behind other potential England strikers. There would have to be an injury crisis like no other for Michael to get in the squad.

  • Comment number 4.

    very predictable! it wouldn't take long before you came out with another-case-for owen blog. Journos, pundits and media won't pick the team for SA, Capello will and won't take Owen based on one or two performances. Get over it...

  • Comment number 5.

    This is a point I have been making for a while regarding Owen and England.

    Regardless of form or fitness... his name still strikes fear within any opposition he comes up against..... within the fans, the players and even the manager.

    Even in this era of ultimate professionals... seeing the name of someone of such high calibre can do just enough to give them a little extra tension.
    a player whose reputation still goes before him

  • Comment number 6.

    On current form I wouldn't take Owen. However he has scored 7 goals this season despite hardly starting a match, now he doubles that and I think he'll be in with a shout if he's fit, I don't think that many english players will be hitting 15+ goals, if he passes 20 he should be a shoe in, IF.

    Personally I don't think this should even be mentioned till he gets into at least double figures, I won't again till he has hit 15, I'd encourage the Media not to till, but as they make their living on forcasting the future based on someones last game I won't get my hopes up!

  • Comment number 7.

    Michael Owen is a world class finisher. And if you still doubt his ability, ask yourself this question.

    Who else in all of the Champions League group stage this season has scored a hatrick ? The Answer: No-One.

    And the fact that he did it away, in Germany, amongst a half strength United side, against a full strength Wolfsburg side, who happen to be the current German champions, makes it that much more poignant.

    Capello would be mad not to take Owen to the World Cup on the evidence he has shown so far in his limited but excellent cameo's for United so far this season.

    If you are an England fan and you could pick the striker that has a chance to score an equaliser or match winner in the latter stages of the World Cup, which English striker do you think would have the best instincts to get the ball in the bacl of the net.

    As an Australian, if we were playing England, I would be a lot more worried about Michael Owen getting in behind our defence then I would be of any other striker. Even the likes of Defoe, Crouch or Bent wouldn't be as feared as Michael Owen would be.

    He does need to stay fit, and his performances must stay consistent, but there is probably no better place he could be right now, than under the stewardship of Sir Alex.

    I agree Phil that Benitez should have moved for Owen, and I think that there is a bit off egg on Rafa's face in light of Owen's success so far, and Liverpool's miserable failure.

    Considering Benitez had the insight to spend 17 million pounds on a right fullback in Glen Johnson, Michael Owen on a free transfer should hardly have been a stretch, but it just adds to my belief that the Kop should add a new tune to their playlist.

    You know the one, "You don't know what you're doing".

  • Comment number 8.

    Come on, Owen is England's most proven performance. Obviously Owen will have to build on this to prove his worth to Capello, but clearly he can't be ignored if he is scoring. Defoe is a very good finisher but doesn't have the same ability as Owen to score against the best defenses in the world (granted Wolfsburg's defense is hardly the same caliber of United's or Chelsea's)he has after all consistently scored against the international big-guns including Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany and Portugal.If he can go on to score another 10 or so goals this season I can hardly see any reason for him not to be included. The fact that Beckham is regularly making the squad while not playing at such a competitive level as Owen and with tougher competition for his place (SWP, Walcott, Young, Milner) is incredible. If Capello brings 4 strikers to the World Cup then Owen deserves a place above Crouch with Rooney, Defoe and Heskey.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nothing wrong with having an agenda to get Owen in the England side Phil.
    If you want to have the best chance at World Cup glory that is.

    I cannot understand the thinking that "he is still way behind other potential England strikers. There would have to be an injury crisis like no other for Michael to get in the squad"

    Defoe, Crouch, Bent, Agbonlahor, Walcott, Cole, hmmm, doesn't exactly strike fear into opponents.

    And way behind ? How much Champions League, FA Cup Finals, World Cup experience do the above mentioned have.

    Roll them all their experience into one, and you still don't get close to Michael Owen's pedigree.

    I hope for our (Australia's) sake Capello does not pick him, but as a football fan wanting to see the best players at the World Cup, I hope Capello does pick him. And I hope for Owen's sake he gets picked too.

    I remember watching Owen win the FA Cup single handedly against my beloved Arsenal back in 2001, and that was sickening, but I can give credit where credit is due, and Michael Owen is one player that should be on the plane to South Africa.

  • Comment number 10.

    Re Owen:

    One swallow does not make a summer - complete premature speculation.

    It's not even worth having the debate until there's more to go on - like at the end of March.

    Poor tabloid sensationalist excuse for a blog.

  • Comment number 11.

    The one thing to stop the whole Owen going / not going to the world cup is that he WILL be injured when the squad is picked. End of. £20 says he is.

  • Comment number 12.

    Phil I see you are prompt at your bi-monthly rendezvous with hyping-up the English clubs' prospects in Europe. I'm sure had Liverpool scraped through you'd put them in as favourites too as you always do, justifying it with your usual cliche 'Benitez the master-tactician in Europe'.

    Unfortunately for you the truth is that after their ONE year of domination (07-08) the English clubs are feared no longer. The Spanish sides are nowadays the ones to avoid; the French ones, Porto and Bayern with key players fit again are also looking very strong.

    In particular the runners-up will probably be quite pleased to be drawn against either of United or Arsenal (along with Fiorentina of course). United have had a mediocre and fortunate campaign without even a single convincing performance in the easiest of groups; Arsenal have big defensive problems and RVP their only class striker out; Chelsea indeed have a chance and the best hope out of the home 3, but struggling against one of the worst teams in the history of the competition home and away and with a few players just returning from Copa Africa won't make them feel too optimistic either.

    As always though the draws will determine to a great extent who goes though.

  • Comment number 13.

    Phil, do you have an agenda to get Owen in the England side?

    and to others who share same thoughts. It's not the journalist, it's just that on my 4 years on 606 and BBC blogs, what I have noticed is that British people love counter arguing a journalist.

    Just what is wrong with taking Owen to SA? Remember Owen scoring 4th goal against Man City? I genuinly believe that goal shows his pedigree more than the hat-trick against Wolfburg. In WCs, you need a striker who can cooly slots the ball past the keeper when there are only few seconds left on the clock. Who other 'English' striker has done that so far in the season? When fit, M Owen is mr reliable, the best finisher and poacher we possess.

    It indeed is true that out of Defoe, Crouch, Agbonlahor and M Owen, who would strike fears into the defences of teams like Brazil, Argentina and Germany? He has this something against big teams. His track record is out-standing and if he is fit and playing for Utd, I don't see any reason why Capello shouldn't pick him.

    Best of luck Michael Owen.

  • Comment number 14.

    Predictable tosh...

    Put Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker in an Arsenal, Chelsea or ManU shirt right now they will get goals. Can their bodies take the heat week in week out, no! Against the very best defences, can they still do it, no! They have lost a yard or two of pace, same with Owen.

    If he plays a whole season for ManU rather than these cameo roles, he would not have the pace to be of any use at the world cup. However, his fight for a world cup place is a great media story so I don't expect it will go away even after he hangs up his playing boots...

  • Comment number 15.

    I have to agree with Phil's views on Owen, the point is pretty clear, England if you will excuse the expression continue "to flatter to deceive too often". The World Cup is a different competition altogether from the Prem League or the Champs League, and as a Scotsman I can appreciate the point being made. If you have proven assets at this level (and they are fit) then bring them along, no point bringing a flash in the pan like Walcott or Defoe if they don't do it on the big day in South Africa when it counts (especially if they have yet to reach a level of consistency in competitions this big). Excuses do not compensate for goals.

  • Comment number 16.

    For all those bashing Phil for suggesting a World Cup ticket for Michael Owen:

    The statistics show that he is the most overall efficient English striker.

    Check it out.

    Domestic: Matches: 238 / Goals: 91 = 0.38 goals per match
    International: Matches: 55 / Goals: 25 = 0.45 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 313 / Goals: 122 = 0.38 goals per match
    International: Matches: 38 / Goals: 11 = 0.28 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 310 / Goals: 89 = 0.28 goals per match
    International: Matches: 35 / Goals: 18 = 0.51 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 479 / Goals: 111 = 0.23 goals per match
    International: Matches: 57 / Goals: 7 = 0.12 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 261 / Goals: 140 = 0.53 goals per match
    International: Matches: 5 / Goals: 0 = 0.00 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 144 / Goals: 39 = 0.27 goals per match
    International: Matches: 3 / Goals: 0 = 0.00 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 88 / Goals: 11 = 0.12 goals per match
    International: Matches: 8 / Goals: 3 = 0.37 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 168 / Goals: 35 = 0.20 goals per match
    International: Matches: 6 / Goals: 0 = 0.00 goals per match

    And then we have

    Domestic: Matches: 332 / Goals: 159 = 0.47 goals per match
    International: Matches: 89 / Goals: 40 = 0.44 goals per match

    Efficiency wise, only Darren Bent has a better domestic strike ratio, although most of those strikes were in the Championship, rather than the Premiership or La Liga.

    Internationally, Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch’s stats just edge him, but Michael Owen has a better record than any of the other hopefuls.

    In fact his record is far and away better than the rest.

    With the domestic and international stats combined, as they should be to judge the overall performance of a player in all competitions, he is surpassed by none. Not even Rooney.

    The fact that Defoe, Bent, Agbonlahor and Cole have no Champions League experience, and Heskey and Walcott have very limited experience against Europe’s elite club competition defenders, should be taken into account as well.

    So the pecking order according to the international statistics should be:
    1 – Crouch
    2 – Rooney
    3 – Owen
    4 – Walcott
    5 – Defoe

    However, Wayne Rooney’s overall performances, skill and bloody mindedness would clearly see him top the pecking order.

    Those crowing for Defoe should keep in mind that he has never had the opportunity to ply his trade against the very best defenders Europe has to offer so there must be a question mark over him and any other player that has not faced that acid test.

    Michael Owen has though, many times, and has he delivered against the very best on more than a few occasions.

  • Comment number 17.

    Owen a must in South Africa..........
    Rooney and in form michael owen may send send shivers to many defenders.
    Just hope.he stays fit.Fingers Crossed!

  • Comment number 18.

    "Who else in all of the Champions League group stage this season has scored a hatrick ? The Answer: No-One."

    Actually Grafite scored one on the opening fixture of the group stages, on his first ever champions league appearance...

  • Comment number 19.

    "I agree Phil that Benitez should have moved for Owen, and I think that there is a bit off egg on Rafa's face in light of Owen's success so far, and Liverpool's miserable failure." (Post #7 by Cameron)

    Since it's that time of year perhaps it's egg n'gog that Benitez has on his face around his mouth?

    Yes, I agree, I think Benitez should have risked bidding the whole of the Anfield house last summer in order to steal Michael Owen out from under the clutches of Sir Alex in the same manner that Man. City did in order to steal Robinho out from the clutches of Chelsea. What's that? Owen was available on a free transfer? Yes, I know, but with the way Rafa has managed Liverpool's transfer funds over the last few years the current state of Liverpool's finances are now in such dire straits that LFC would probably have had to take out a mortgage on Anfield in order to be able to sign a player available on a free transfer! :)

    But it's not too late for Sir Alex. If the price Rafa paid for Alberto Aquilani is anything to go by, the current going price for perennial bench warmers such as Michael Owen is somewhere in the region of £17 million. My suggestion to Sir Alex would be, come the January transfer window, to sell Owen to Rafa for a cool £17 million and use the money he gets for him to buy himself some new defenders. Because at the rate United are getting through defenders this season, old SAF might have to go buy 8 or 10 more in January! :)

    The problem with Michael Owen has never been his goal-scoring ability. He has one of the highest - if not THE highest - scoring rates per minutes played in the EPL. For instance, look at his performance so far this season: He's scored 7 goals for United (making him United's second highest scorer behind Rooney with 11 and ahead of Berbatov with 4) and I think that Wolfsburg outing may have been only the third full game Owen has played all season. Owen might have started another 3 or 4 games at most, but in all those he was substituted (in one case after only 10 or 20 minutes). For almost all the other games this season Owen has been used mostly as a late impact substitute (coming on 10-20 minutes from the end of the game) for either Rooney or Berbatov. In a few cases he did not even make the match day final 18, or when he did, he sat out the full 90 minutes on the bench.

    So to score 7 goals with such small amounts of field time is a testament to his very high goal-scoring acumen. The problem with Owen is that he is very injury prone; you name it, he's had it (including being disabilitated for weeks on end with the mumps!). A player that cannot play more than a third of a match, and who has a track record of managing to get himself seriously injured in the only 10 minutes he actually does play, is a total luxury for a World Cup squad. If England were taking 23 strikers to South Africa then I for one would be saying take him along. At least he'll be good for keeping one of the team coach seats warm.

    But England are taking ONLY 4 strikers; so they all have to be players that can start a match and play the full 90 minutes (plus extra time, if necessary, in the latter stages of the competition). Taking a player that you might possibly have a need for as a match-winning impact player in one of your games - but then again, most probably not - is a complete waste of 25% of England's striking force. Especially if Capello plays him in England's first game and he gets stretchered off after only ten minutes, thereby reducing England's squad down to 22 players (and only 3 strikers) for the rest of the competition.

    If Beckham is also in the squad of 23 then that would make two such luxury players that England can ill afford. England have repeatedly found it hard enough to progress beyond the quarter final stages of the World Cup with 23 players, so what chance are they going to have with 21 players plus 2 passengers, both of whom have been included mostly for reasons of nostalgia over their past performances for Man. United or Liverpool (did Owen ever play for Newcastle United in all the time he was at that club)?

  • Comment number 20.

    Ok my bad, I missed that atnmitch, damn penalties, but still.
    If I am allowed to revise:

    Who else that is English, in all of the Champions League group stage this season have scored a hatrick ? The Answer: No-One.

  • Comment number 21.

    Regardless of exactly who scored how many goals, when and against whom, you have to say Owen is up there with a chance of making the WC squad. Clearly it is early doors(RON) but as a United and England fan, the perfect scenario is as follows:

    Rooney and Owen form a great partnership, using telepathy a la Cole/Yorke to win United an unprecedented 4th title(sorry but allow my indulgence).Taking this forward we finally show up at the World Cup playing form players in their prefered roles. This would give us a great chance. If Owen's form is a flash in the pan, so be it, but Strikers, Centre Backs and CM's do form understandings that would be invaluable come June.

  • Comment number 22.

    19. At 03:37am on 10 Dec 2009, Tell it how it is wrote:
    "Since it's that time of year perhaps it's egg n'gog that Benitez has on his face around his mouth"

    Haha, GOLD

    If Owen is still 100% fit come the end of the season, I think he should be England's third striker behind Rooney and Crouch. I'd pick Defoe as the 4th, and Walcott and Joe Cole as wingers-cum-strikers if needed. Provided Walcott and Cole are 100% fit of course.

    Should the same not apply to Owen ?

    He is only 29 after all, not in his mid 30's. Players are said to peak at the age of 28-29 so to leave him out, would in my opinion give England about 25% less of a chance at winning the World Cup.

    And to not pick a player because he might get injured, even in light of Owen’s history, would be crazy.

    It would be akin to Australia not picking Harry Kewell because of his injury record.

    Beckham is another case entirely. He is in his mid 30’s, so a passenger maybe, but as they say “never back against a champion”.

  • Comment number 23.

    Domestic: Matches: 479 / Goals: 111 = 0.23 goals per match
    International: Matches: 57 / Goals: 7 = 0.12 goals per match"
    (Post #16 by Cameron)

    I'm surprised you could find any goal-scoring stats. for Heskey ... I thought the stats. got deleted after three years of no updates?!

    If England include Heskey in the squad they will be the only side going to South Africa with a striker that doesn't score any - or, at least, very many - goals. Richard Dunne has scored more goals than Emile Heskey for Villa this season and he's a back-four defender. Plus he spent the first few games of the season playing for Man. City. Surely the first criterion a player must meet in order to be selected to play as a striker for England is to score goals? No? Let's see, which side in the EPL and Football League has conceded the most goals so far this season? If their goalkeeper is English then, based on the Heskey selection criterion, maybe he should be England's goalkeeper in South Africa?

  • Comment number 24.

    if Owen stays fit, starts games, scores goals until May then he's going - simple as that really

    Rooney and a big target man will go, they need one or two poachers - that's basically out of Bent, Defoe or Owen - I'd favour the latter two as superior strikers to Bent (if fit)

  • Comment number 25.

    "If Owen's form is a flash in the pan, so be it, but Strikers, Centre Backs and CM's do form understandings that would be invaluable come June." (Post #21 by bollyred)

    If telepathy / mutual understanding is a criterion for player selection then perhaps Capello should choose Crouch and Defoe rather than Rooney and Owen. BTW Owen normally plays as a late replacement for Rooney or Berbatov rather than full games alongside either of them. Whatever "mutual striker understanding" he has developed with Rooney after playing alongside him for 10-15 minutes every other week is hardly on a par with the understanding that, say, Drogba and Anelka have established over at Chelsea. If Owen has established a special understanding with any of the United squad it is with Tomasz Kuszczak, the standby goalkeeper, who until quite recently Owen has spent 70-80 minutes sitting next to on the substitute bench every match day.

    Another useful "mutual understanding" that Owen has established with another United player, that might also stand him in good stead, is his relationship with the other United standby goalkeeper, Ben Foster, because if United's injuries to key defenders continue at the current rate, Owen may soon find himself playing full games for United as a rightback, alongside Foster at centerback!

  • Comment number 26.

    7. At 11:45pm on 09 Dec 2009, Cameron wrote:
    Michael Owen is a world class finisher. And if you still doubt his ability, ask yourself this question.

    Who else in all of the Champions League group stage this season has scored a hatrick ? The Answer: No-One.
    Ignorance! Grafite- Wolfsburg!

  • Comment number 27.

    Michael Owen's performance on Tuesday was heart-warming to any Manchester United fan. 7 goals in 20 appearances isn't bad (especially as his 20 appearances include only 8 starts and only 3 whole games). The confidence that flows from scoring should bring further goals and calm the nerves of fans concerned about what happens if Rooney gets injured. It's good news for United, but I still can't see him returning to England.

  • Comment number 28.

    The whole 'Owen for England' bandwagon is driving me nuts; it's become almost like a kind of 'gag reflex' for the media; the minute he does anything remotely positive we get shots of Capello in the stand looking bored (if he's at the game) or several minutes of commentators and pundits blathering vacantly about how Owen should/must be in Capello's World Cup squad - this has now reached almost Pavlovian levels.

    However, I note that in the games where Owen has been peripheral or has missed good chances, this 'story' isn't mentioned. Now why is that, guys? It would be great to hear someone actually say "Well, Owen's missed a sitter there - he's got no chance of going to South Africa in this kind of form..."

    Anyway, whilst I personally couldn't care less I hope for England's sake,that Capello is strong enough to make up his own mind. As a United fan, anything that keeps Owen motivated, fit and scoring goals has got to be a good thing as far as I'm concerned. On the other hand if the likes of Motson et al are going to keep blathering on like this until the World Cup squad is announced, I may need to emigrate temporarily or turn the volume down.

    It would be great if some of you guys and your editors took it on board that there are many of us (and I am English) out here for whom the football season is not merely defined by the World Cup that comes at its end. Like many, I will sit down and watch large chunks of the World Cup once it starts, but, let's face it, it's a sideshow. The real issues are promotion and relegation in this country, the domestic cups and the Champions League. The World Cup will be upon us soon enough - and then no doubt, we'll all be wondering what all the fuss was about.

  • Comment number 29.

    (Big?) Phil,

    PLEASE, PLEASE end this Rafa bashing on the free transfer issue. Please educate the 'ignorants' that in addition to the transfer fees there is the small matter of the weekly salary, and MO is not exactly earning peanuts. The history is that MO snubbed LFC as no hopers when on the way to Real Madrid. Then when MO was surplus at RM FC he again chose the very high weekly pay-off at the Toon circus. All of which eneded in tears.

    The most abiding memory is that of MO collapsing at the last world cup and FC remembers it very well. MO had his days in the sunshine and I can bet that including MO in the squad will only guarantee TEARS.

  • Comment number 30.

    29. At 06:22am on 10 Dec 2009, red lion wrote:
    (Big?) Phil,

    PLEASE, PLEASE end this Rafa bashing on the free transfer issue.

    Why? Other managers would have been crucified had they made the same error. Considering the performance of Liverpool v Owen's performance this season, can you blame anybody for highlighting just how wrong Rafa got it? Especially in light of the whole world and his dog tipping Liverpool for the title?

  • Comment number 31.

    I mean Defoe himself has been banging goals for Tottenham recently.
    With Rooney,Defoe and Crouch almost certain to be selected over Owen and Capello's continued selection of Heskey,Owen has a lot to do with the limited chances he will get at United.
    It's too early to talk about Owen's chances and Capello isn't the sort of knee jerk coach who would start torturing himself when Owen bangs in a hat-trick.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    Haha! Owen to South Africa; never in a million years. Capello never liked him, not when he was Real Madrid manager and shipped away to Newcastle, and I don't presume he will have changed his mind about it after he struck his hat-trick (two of which were tap ins).

    It was so predictable that his protagonists were going to write a consuming article about the validity of his inclusion for the England squad after one 'typical Owen' display. It is so clear he doesn't fit the bill for Capello, so why insist upon it? Thats what I don't understand about these journalists!

    Capello wants a hard working team, why do you think he keeps playing Rooney, or Heskey for that matter!? He likes his forwards to press and offer protection to his midfield with the exception of Defoe, Owen is just one of those players that don't do that and never will, no matter how many goals he scores. Defoe is younger, more technical, faster and is just as good of a finisher as Owen, if not better. He has chosen his goal-poacher and that is Defoe as his impact sub, he is not going to bring two of them along. For him it doesn't make sense, and doesn't resonate with his philosophy. Ultimately, it is that philosophy that has England racked up with so many points in qualifying- so why do you want to jeopardise England's performances if it has brought them so much success by insisting on Owen's inclusion? Doesn't make much sense to change a winning formula!

    Its time to accept this Phil, and stop influencing the public of the Owen alternative because the younger ones will believe you. It's not constructive journalism because you don't really back your argument for his inclusion (apart from the obvious- his goals in the last game). Darren Bent has scored more goals than Owen, I didn't see you write anything about him needing to be included, so why write one about Owen when he is doing better in the goal-scoring department than Owen is? Its simple and can be summed up in one word. PREJUDICE! But don't worry Phil, we all suffer from it. YOU NEVER WALK ALONE ;).

  • Comment number 34.

    The fact is that Owen still hasn't played a good 5 - 8 games in succession, scoring regularly or performing well regularly. He is scoring every 5 or so games, as a sub or in matches where Ferguson is resting a few first team players. He needs to demonstrate his fitness and consistency before he can be considered by Capello.

    The reason why Heskey has been getting away with is is because he has performed for Capello at international level consistently in a very precise role. This is where he is asked to use his strength and awareness to bring Rooney and Gerrard into the game.

    In my opinion, Owen needs to play a few matches in succession before being considered.

    Ironically, Owen may have been better served moving to a club where he would have had a guaranteed place in the first eleven in order to get into the England WC squad.

    Also, as a Liverpool fan I can tell you that it wasn't only Benitez that didn't want to sign him in the summer, it was the majority of the fans too.

  • Comment number 35.

    Come on people, what has Owen done in the last 5 years? Nada. He's been pants since he left Liverpool. He's trading on his 40 England goals. It's MO or Defoe for the WC and i'd go Defoe everytime- he's got more to his game.

  • Comment number 36.

    28. At 06:15am on 10 Dec 2009, AgentC53 wrote:

    you are nuts my friend. The world cup is a side show???

    You must be either just trying to get a response (it worked!) or are crazy. I bet any player dreams of winning the world cup more than anything else. Most kids will dream of playing in and winning the world cup more than anything else. It's the ultimate competition. The ultimate prize.

  • Comment number 37.

    In this article, the author waxes lyrical about Michael Owen and United's performance, and considering their injuries rightly so. Personally speaking, as a Chelsea fan, I had been delighted to see Michael Owen's indifferent form. As an England fan, I want him to start performing, because I think he's a class act, when fit. As for his hattrick, two of last night's goals against Wolfsburg were the reult of abject defending, and the last demonstrated his class. This instant call to be reinstated in the England side after one good night would be like saying David Bentley should get another shot after one good game.
    Also, last night on ITV's Champion's League highlights show, Chelsea "limped" into the next round and your article calls their performance "stodgy". Chelsea qualified undefeated, including a win at Porto, and but for an individual error, would have had five wins and a draw.

  • Comment number 38.

    To be honest Phil, I'm amazed it took you so long to post this blog. As sooon as Owen got his first, I expected you to be online telling him to cancel his holidays and expect a trip to South Africa.

    You are nothing if not depressingly predictable.

    It was ONE match. If Owen starts playing week in, week out and consistently scoring goals whilst staying fit, then he might get in the squad. I'm afraid Owen is yesterdays man, living off scraps like an occassional Carling cup, or meaningless Champions League match.

    Crouch, Heskey and Rooney are all pretty much certainties and all offer something different to the England set up. So it's between Owen and Defoe for the final strikers spot and the facts speak for themselves: This season Defoe is fitter and more prolific.

    The only reason to take Owen to South Africa is sentiment, and there's no place for that if we actually want to win.

    My only real question is how much do the Owen PR people pay you to keep writing this stuff Phil?

  • Comment number 39.

    I don't get why everyone always bashes anyone for saying Michael Owen should go if fit and on form. That is what Phil and the media are saying. Not Owen should go with a broken leg and not having scored all season.

    And to bag a hat-trick in the champions league against a good team is a good way to prove your worth. If he keeps on playing like this, which is the point made, then yeah, he is a likely candidate. In fact, isn't Capello even quoted on saying he is a tormentor? That's because Owen, in form and fit is very, very good.

  • Comment number 40.

    There is no doubt that Owen still has mountain to climb if he is to play a part in the forthcoming World Cup. By the end of the domestic season he will have had to have replaced Berbatov as Rooney's first choice partner at Old Trafford, and have scored a significant amount of goals- a big ask of anyone. Not impossible though, and I for one hope he does it. Rooney is one of the best forwards on the planet, and whilst Defoe is undoubtedly an expert finisher, he lacks real the big game experience which comes into play during a big tournament- enter Owen- who has seen it all before.

    I know the argument that surrounds Heskey, but, for me, he is not good enough for Villa, let alone the so called 9th best international team in the world. Rooney does not play week in week out with a Heskey type player, whose mandate is to win knock downs and play with his back to goal- this doesn't seemed to have hindered him so far this season. Much better to take a potent finisher with experience, that can add to dressing room calmness, along with Rooney, Crouch and Defoe.

    I stress that he should only be selected if he finishes the season having scored, won his place at United and stayed injury free.

  • Comment number 41.

    Let's put things into perspective...if he hadn't taken those chances that night I'd bet the storylines would be that he's done his dash and cannot cut it anymore. He showed that he still has the ability and I'm certain that once he gets into his groove there'll be precious little to impede him. I would suggest that he was thrown the gauntlet by Ferguson, who made it clear that this was his chance to lead the line with his first-choice attack unavailable, a chance to remind people of his quality which he might or might not get later on. The true pro that he is, Owen liked that and responded magnificently.

    True, he has missed a few sitters early on in the season but I would say that he has not really been helped by being given very short cameo appearances on a few occasions. He needs more playing time and more full games in order to be given a fair crack at the whip, and I can see him getting some more games this season, particularly since United are now the only English club capable of winning the Quadruple this season. I see him playing many minutes in the cups along with the kids where he can lead the line, and if he is able to end up with at least 20-25 goals for the season while helping United win trophies, He should be in with a shout. I would in fact have him on the plane as a 3rd or 4th Striker, or at least a 5th which would be a sign of attacking intent.

  • Comment number 42.

    Here we go again, one good game and the last two years are forgotten. At his best Owen was one of the finest strikers in the world, that unfortunately was a decade ago. Owen is a shadow of his former self and one game won't change that. If he continues to play well and finds the consistency that has been lacking for a very long time then he should be mentioned for the world cup but that's a big if.

    Owen has a lot to prove and fortunately Capello won't be easily swayed, it seems at last our team with the exception of Heskey is chosen on form and not on reputation

  • Comment number 43.

    . At 10:51pm on 09 Dec 2009, Jon_Da-Don wrote:
    Why is it that everytime Owen scores, England call up is always mentioned??


    When your options include Darren Bent - I believe Owen deserves a shot at it...

    Most of the other strikers touted for the same position are run-of-the-mill Premiership strikers - its not a bad level, its just not international class!! I am sure even the Sunderland fans would agree that all things being equal they would take Owen over Bent any time

  • Comment number 44.

    #19 - If Beckham is also in the squad of 23 then that would make two such luxury players that England can ill afford. England have repeatedly found it hard enough to progress beyond the quarter final stages of the World Cup with 23 players, so what chance are they going to have with 21 players plus 2 passengers, both of whom have been included mostly for reasons of nostalgia over their past performances for Man. United or Liverpool (did Owen ever play for Newcastle United in all the time he was at that club)?


    Beckham is hardly a luxury player. He is one of the most hardworking and dedicated professionals in the game and offers skills and attitude in abundance in terms of passing, defending, crossing etc that SWP, Lennon and Walcott lack.

    Yes Owen did play for Newcastle United when he was there scoring 26 GOALS IN 70 APPEARANCES

    So even there when blighted by injury he had a good strike ratio. As for your argument about people getting stretchered off what's to say that couldn't happen to Defoe or any other player.

    With Michae Owen & David Beckham in the team we have got more chance of navigating teh knockout stages than wiithout which is why Brazil, Spain, Germany etc will be very relieved if we don't take them.

    Ask yourself this would Manchester United & AC Milan sign them if they weren't good enough to play for England?

    NO they wouldn't as they only buy top class players for their clubs

  • Comment number 45.

    I am surprised at the amount of goals Owen has scored this season and thought it was a joke when he came to United. But John O Shea who I rate as player, would have got a hatrick against wolfsburg, even Gary Neveille would have..heck if Peter Schemical came back and played up front he might have too. I won't read too much into a hatrick, but it's sure that Fergusons risk ( it wasn't a great one) has paid off big time already, precious points have been won due to Owens goals. If he does nothing else for the season he has been worth carrying. I don't think he is good enough for the cut and thrust of International football. I think he is in a win win situation at the moment, enjoying himself and smiling. It's good. But in the pressure of the world cup, I can those hamstrings tightening up, or the groin popping and the same old same old again. I wouldn't take him unless he proves he can last 90 minutes regularly and score regularly. It's not rocket's simply there are younger more prolific fitter strikers available. Why take the risk at the world cup which would be a much greater risk than Ferguson signing him for nothing?

  • Comment number 46.

    Who says anything about playing 90 minutes collie? If he can score goals as an impact player that should be enough to secure his ticket...I can see him playing the same role that Edward Sheringham played for England in 2001-02!

  • Comment number 47.

    It's hand on heart time. Of the current England strikers who would be good enough under the intense pressure a world cup to thrive? Rooney yes, but there the list ends.
    As it happens I won't take the #20 wager offered above because I think he will be injured too. But if fully fit and firing he should go. Who says Owen is good enough? SAF that's who and there are not many people who have outguesed him even with the benefit of hindsight.

  • Comment number 48.

    Owen would have a hat trick last night. Gerrard must have hit at least ten perfect crosses in the second half.
    Owen will always score - much more than Kuyt, Ngog and Vornonin - just spend a minute watching his movement to see why.
    Such a disappointing game last night.
    They created the better chances and looked like scoring in every attack - Skrtel looks a completely different player.
    A new striker is a must in January but so is a new centre half - for more than £2 million!!
    The frustrating thing, and it is easy to say now, but at full strength with Johnson, Alberto and Torres all fully fit, we would have destroyed them - they couldn't defend crosses at all.
    The only way Liverpool can claw back some positive from this season is going all out in every game to win, whether it is Arsenal at home or Stoke away. Every game now should be the FA Cup final.

  • Comment number 49.

    He's a distinctly average footballer, awful first touch, not quick any more, still weak, no vision, poor distribution, totally one footed and can't beat a man. Doesn't matter though, he will always score goals wherever he goes.

    That said, he offers little else to the team, so if another English player has scored more goals per game than him in the Premier League why should he be selected and not them?

  • Comment number 50.

    I completly agree that every time Owen scores he got a mention towards the world cup. This is wrong he has scored only a few goals this season and needs to bide his time, but on the other hand Mr Capello says he picks people in form. Now out of the two of Heskey and Owen who is in better goal scoring form?... but who is a definate to go to the wolrd cup? The whole situation is a bit mumbo jumbo but it will still be a good topic to follow in the following months....!

  • Comment number 51.

    to #46, I don't think the time of having the luxury of players who play only a couple of minutes, or don't play, ( a la walcott) is with us anymore. Players are nowadays, fitter stronger faster than a decade ago when Micheal Owen was a demi god in England. Yes he is scoring, but he is scoring against very very bad teams. If United had a full strength team out they would have scored 7 or 8 against a shocking bad team. If they were playing against Barca or Munich they would have conceeded a hatful. Wolfsburg were very very bad. Owen has scored against Man City a team with a dodgy defence, and in the carling cup. There are not many defences that will be so charitable in the world cup. Organsisation at the back is one of the keys to getting to the tournament. Owen will be up against better defences and better keepers. You then have to ask will he have the service, is there a giggs or obertan or Nani ( when he is on form) to give him the ball? Does he fit capellos game plan? Owen is a poacher who scores the odd break away individual goal, but hanging around the box is what he does best. I don't see it fitting capellos style. Can he track back? Can he stay fit? Is he fast enough? When Phil predicted at the Start of the season that Owen would well at United, and United would miss Ronaldo more than Liverpool would Alonso, I practically called his sanity into question. It's nice to see he is like the rest of us only half mad. I am impressed Owen still has the movement, I am impressed any time anyone scores a hatrick. But I see a fully fit United playing more and more Rooney alone up front with Berba off him, and Valencia and another on the wing supply the crosses. Owen will be the 75 minute replacement, barring injuries to others, and there is the likes of Wellbeck macheda to consider as well. He might make it to the world cup and Phil can stand up and take a bow. It might be on form alone, or other people for a change could get injured. I think this year is Englands best chance to get to the final ever, If Owen went and scored I think it would be great for him, Ironic, and pretty good for Phil too. But then this is a dream. The harsh reality of life will kick in around March and we will see who is fit and scoring.

  • Comment number 52.

    On this talk about me having an agenda to get Owen in the England side - I would have thought most people would have an agenda to get a proven international finisher in the side at the World Cup if he was fit and playing well.

    As I have stated before, I would not even suggest him as an automatic starter, but what about on the bench? I could certainly make more of a case for having a fit Michael Owen on the bench than David Beckham, and yet so many seem to be in thrall to that theory simply because he would be good to have around the squad and might deliver a few decent crosses and free-kicks.

    If Owen is fit, playing well and scoring goals, I believe it would be a huge mistake to leave him out. If that is an agenda, then maybe I have got one after all. It is also a widespread public debate at the moment, so I suspect I am not alone.

    Here's an interesting piece.

  • Comment number 53.

    Dont see the attraction with the CL.

    Not one bit.

    Some years back, clubs like Notts Forest, Villa and Liverpool won it. With British players, British owners and British money.

    Now THAT was something to be proud of.

    But what is it today?

    The RICHEST 5 or 6 European clubs, the SAME OLD faces, year in year out.

    And the British clubs - not British. No longer. Just multi-national businesses owned run and populated by foreigners.

    So as regards European competition - give me back the old days.

  • Comment number 54.

    First of all, it was as clear as night follows day, that this was going to happen. All the papers and journos, raving on about Suer Michael Owen, - the exact same people that were branding him finished no more than 6 months back, - when he was plagued by injuries, and playing a bit part role in a very poor Newcastle team.

    Now, after a promising few weeks, he's back in contention for the World Cup, - make your mind up.

    Note: - Phil that isn't a dig out you, I know you've always been a fan of Owen.

    My view on this whole Owen saga is this, Owen guarantees you goals at whatever level of football he plays, - as his record backs up, and I would have no doubts at all that I would take him to the World Cup.

    Probably not as a starter, as I think Owen's best performances so far as a United player have been coming of the bench as an impact player, - Man City sticking out in my mind for some reason. However saying that, you can hardly argue with a start for Owen and an Owen hatrick, however on the whole I just think Owen sometimes fades away, e.g. the Besiktas home game, where he had to lead the line playing in a young United team, who gave him next to no service whatsoever, so I'm not blaming Michael on that one.

    There was an argument earlier up in the blog, that England have better young strikers, i.e. Defoe, Bent, I would say to that I agree with that in terms of premier league football, but Bent especially, has yet to establish himself as an international quality player, and you could say the same for Defoe in the major tournaments. Yes he can score for fun against the likes of Andorra, - couldn't we all? But I'm yet to be totally convinced he can cut it against the best.

    Lawro's argument of bringing five stikers to the World Cup in my eyes makes sense. Personally I would bring Rooney, Owen, Defoe, Crouch and Carlton Cole/ Emile Heskey, because I think that combination provides fantastic balance.

    I can't see how, if Owen continues to flourish at Man United, when given opportunities Capello can ignore him. So far, he hasn't seem convinced deciding against giving him a place in the squad, however if Owen stays fit for a long period of time, and is playing regularly, I can see Capello playing Owen as a trump card, because a fit Michael owen is absolutely no risk at all.

  • Comment number 55.

    As for Owen who seems to be the only subject of the debate, the only reason United and Liverpool would even consider having someone like him to occupy a place their squad, regardless of whether they paid him or not, is because they haven't got the prestige and more important the money to attract the hot property of world football for that position.

    You all know who those names are, you'll be watching most of them at the World Cup, and as things stand United and Liverpool can only dream of having them. They have to buy grade B from the bargain bin.

  • Comment number 56.

    Good article Phil! All these Owen haters obviously havent watched him very much for United. Apart from his first few games (where he was adapting to the team and gaining fitness), he has always looked dangerous for the few times he has played. He is so intelligent with his movement and positional sense, I cant think of another striker that is as good in that respect.

    Owen can nick a goal anytime, and as a United fan am overjoyed that Man U bought a player like him, as there are numerous games where despite playing well, we just dont look like scoring (enough), especially frustrating given the number of chances we create and Rooney and Berba's inability to finish them off.

    I cannot believe Capello will take both Crouch and Heskey, both of which are very average (especially Crouch, who is, for his height, one of the worst headers' of the ball there is) and are not strikers who if there are chances created you can rely on to finish them off. I currently reside in Holland and people here realize Rooney and Defoe are class - Heskey and Crouch are jokes (though i realize that one of them must go, to add another dimension). One thing though, Owen is always feared and he has shown me and many others already this season, that his intelligence and sharpness is still there, just needs some more games from fergie to aid his confidence.

  • Comment number 57.

    It's a non-starter and if you don't think Michael Owen should go to the World Cup you simply don't know or understand anything about football!
    Yeah everyone jumps on the Bandwagon when he scores that he should go and when he gets injured no he shouldn't and I'm sure if he missed a pentalty oh he's lost it!
    The World cup is 3 - 7 games thats all we need him fit for if injury is an issue.
    He has just scored a hat-trick against the German champions away from home in a makeshift Utd side. So he certainly hasn't lost it!
    This was a Champions League game!!! Defoe, Crouch, Bent, Ablongahor do not play in the Champions League let alone score a hat-trick in it!
    I'm sure the Brazilian, Italian, Spanish central defence etc will be laughing at us when we start with Bent and are 'impact' sub Ablongahor comes on!! Get real!!! Can't really see either of them handling the pressure of a penalty shoot out!!
    Ask every defence in the World and they would not like to see Michael Owen on the opposing team sheet!
    In fact lets forget Michael Owen lets take Darius Vassell!!!

  • Comment number 58.

    Owen scores hat-trick. Fine. That's his job. But has he just played himself into England's World Cup squad?. Not even Capello knows the answer... yet. Come decision time, if Owen's on crutches, the decision's easy. However, if he's still banging 'em in, the decision's equally easy. Then take him. A strike force of Rooney and a fit, in-form, Owen would be lethal. Luckily Capello, Fergie and the rest of us all have time to see how this partnership develops. It's a tantalising prospect.

  • Comment number 59.

    I pray that Owen gets excluded. Reasons why:

    1. He's not getting first team football - all the other candiates apart from Crouch and Heskey are and those two have proven to be useful in the qualifying campaign

    2. He is a goal poacher. Useful if they have a decent amount of pace. He doesn't. The other goal poaching options are far better Bent is on scoring form with Sunderland and Defoe is on fire. If Owen scoring 3 means he should get a place surely Defoe scoring 5 should warrant a knighthood.

    3. Injury prone. Everyone always says in the last ten minutes of the match if a chance occured you would want it to go to Owen. I'm sorry but i can't see how he is going to score from the treatment room.

    4. He doesn't fit into any of England's current tactics with a few friendlies left Capello is hardly going to overhaul his entire tactical set up he has established throughout qualifying for a injury prone slow has been bench warmer.

    However i trust Capello sees this and will pick accordingly especially when Owen isn't available for selection because he is injured. And besides he is hardly going to work a player into the squad who has yet to make a competetive start for England.

  • Comment number 60.

    44. At 09:05am on 10 Dec 2009, adampsb wrote:

    With Michae Owen & David Beckham in the team we have got more chance of navigating teh knockout stages than wiithout which is why Brazil, Spain, Germany etc will be very relieved if we don't take them.
    Just ask yourself this question: If Owen and Beckham were Brazilian/Spanish, would they make their national squad of 23?

    Owen was spectacular over a decade ago. I can assure you that the Owen of today does not strike any fear in the minds of the world's best!

  • Comment number 61.

    If he's fit, playing regularly and scoring goals why not take him. Lot's of ifs though!

  • Comment number 62.

    Phil, why don't you just leave it to the man who knows best? Capello

  • Comment number 63.

    55. At 10:06am on 10 Dec 2009, nibs wrote:

    As for Owen who seems to be the only subject of the debate, the only reason United and Liverpool would even consider having someone like him to occupy a place their squad, regardless of whether they paid him or not, is because they haven't got the prestige and more important the money to attract the hot property of world football for that position.

    You all know who those names are, you'll be watching most of them at the World Cup, and as things stand United and Liverpool can only dream of having them. They have to buy grade B from the bargain bin.


    oh not another WUM trying to pedal the anti english agenda...yawn

  • Comment number 64.

    What I love about Fabio Capello is that he has his own mind and will ignore journalists and pundits. He will trust in the players form and how they play within the team shape etc.
    He will make the right decision, when the time is right. The time is not right now.

  • Comment number 65.

    I for one would feel perfectly comfortable if, chasing a game but just not having that final cutting edge, we had Owen on the bench to come on for the final 20 minutes of a game.

    No he's not the player of 10 years ago but is John Terry as good as he was 4-5 years ago? Is Rooney the same explosive player we saw when he joined United?

    Owen has natural goal scoring instinct and a reputation that scares opposition.

    If you saw an Argentina line up with Batistuta up front you'd still think they've always got a chance of scoring, the same I still feel applies to Owen.

  • Comment number 66.

    29. At 06:22am on 10 Dec 2009, red lion wrote:

    PLEASE, PLEASE end this Rafa bashing on the free transfer issue. Please educate the 'ignorants' that in addition to the transfer fees there is the small matter of the weekly salary, and MO is not exactly earning peanuts.
    You're missing the point, IF you pay 17 mill for a player you also have to pay them a salary, so what you're saving is the transfer fee. The 'ignorants' I think realise this.

  • Comment number 67.

    Ha! You just KNEW that Phil McNulty would have a blog about Owen's England chances after Tuesday. The man is obsessed. The number of times you have made the same points over and over is unbelievable. "Benitez missed out" "Masterstroke by Ferguson" etc. The fact is, this time is probably the most justified occasion on which to blog on Owen and England but you have raved about it that many times it is BORING. Whether you admit it or not, you are undoubtedly campaigning for him to be recalled and in turn are letting it affect your work. The Man City draw was turned into the michael owen report too. I happen to agre Owen should go to SA but c'mon... how many times do we need to read you say it Phil?

  • Comment number 68.

    Whenever I have seen Owen this season he has looked sharp. He was a bit disappointing at Burnley, but even then he had chances. And if he continues to score goals Sir Alex Ferguson will give him more games and his England case will get stronger - simple.

    He has had one minor injury problem, which he quickly shrugged off and I would take him to the World Cup, even for use as an impact substitute. I remain unconvinced by Emile Heskey as an international striker, despite the constant messages about how marvellous he is for the team.

    It is nothing personal - I follow Alan Shearer's theory that you judge a striker by the goals he scores and he knows a thing or two.

    On a wider point, what do fans of United, Chelsea and Arsenal think about their Champions League prospects after the group stage and looking at those they might face in the last 16?

    I think United and Chelsea could be right in the mix in the latter stages, although I have a feeling the Premier League champions may just come up short if they were pitted against a side of Barcelona's quality.

    I hope I am wrong because any English team in the final would be wonderful for the Premier League, and I would never write them off.

    Chelsea look strong, even after the very slight blip of their last three games, but at the risk of upsetting Arsenal fans I do not see them winning the Champions League, or indeed the Premier League for that matter. Feel free to tell me exactly why I am wrong though!

  • Comment number 69.

    Capello is a very good coach and he has demonstrated over the years that he is over 90% sure of what he is doing when he makes his selection. He can certainly handle media pressure too and that is unique so stop bashing Phil for having an Owen media-agenda.
    When a player scores a hat-trick naturally, some may be very easy goals but if the goal was not a deflected one, you have to give all the credit to the player.
    Owen's second goal might have been a tap in but you don't call goals scored from directed headers as tap ins. Ronaldo had two clean headers against Marsielle on Tuesday when he was unmarked; one came off the upright while the other was over the top, so good players can also miss with clean headers. You need concentration and direction to get the ball at the back of the net.
    And one more thing, if "old man" Owen exhibits experience to stay in his own half until the pass is laid (to avoid being offside) and then brilliantly runs the other half across the defender showing good pace, it only tells you he is very intelligent. If he had run straight on he would have been put under a fair challenge by the last defender who he might not have been able to shrug off.
    If at the end of the season Capello deems it fit to include him, it is his technical eye that is aiding him to decide and it will probably not be due to the media-hype. Owen is still a brilliant palyer. Ronaldo (Brazil) before 2002 World Cup was more than a casualty but he was given the chance when he got fit and made the mark (Contemporary World Cup Golden Boot Winner, that is no mean achievement).
    Fitness cannot be under-rated in any competition and Capello has insisted on fitness and continuous play and exposure so let's keep finger crossed and wait for the end of the season.

  • Comment number 70.

    Well, debate is good but I am confused by this: One minute we hear that this could be the year that England wins the WC - the next minute we are debating whether Owen, Beckham, Heskey etc should be on the plane to SA! These players have nothing new to put on the tabel. We have seen them so many times that we can predict with great accuracy that, at best, they add nothing to the England side. They are probably less useful than they were at thier prime.. Look at players that will not be there - Van der Sar, Zanetti, Ayala, Demichelis etc etc all better that these former England greates. At some point one has to move on and try something new, otherwise same old faces and same old failures.

  • Comment number 71.

    Chelsea are the only team capable of stopping Barcelona making it two CL titles on the trot. End of.

  • Comment number 72.

    Why are we still having this debate, Owen is passed his best now, and if he goes to the world cup shows how good the rest of the English strikers are.

  • Comment number 73.

    Regarding English teams winning the CL - not a cat in hells chance. I can't see any of them (maybe Chelsea - big maybe) getting past the quarter final stage.

  • Comment number 74.

    With Michae Owen & David Beckham in the team we have got more chance of navigating teh knockout stages than wiithout which is why Brazil, Spain, Germany etc will be very relieved if we don't take them.

    I think that it is the other way round mate. Brazil, Spain and Germany would be delighted. England would have scored a couple of own goals even before the first ball is kicked. Jokes aside, if England is a poorer side without these, then the England party in SA will last a very short while.

  • Comment number 75.

    Phil - 'Spot on' (again) with your blogg.
    If Michael Owen's increasing levels of fitness and performance continue until summer, then Fabio Capello will find himself on the 'horns of a dilemma'.
    I think Capello knows already who he is taking to SA. For sometime he has given the impression that the only situation that is likely to change his mind, are injuries (obviously) and any drastic loss of form by individuals; he now may have to considered a third scenario, i.e. Owen's return to form and fitness.
    Despite what a lot of people think, I believe Fabio hates the concept of 'wild cards' or taking chances, he is going to SA for no other purpose other than to win; he is not interested in putting on a 'good show', or getting to the semi's, or any other of the so called 'measures of success' that we in England have settled for in the past. Therefore to get Fabio to alter his existing plans is going to take something of a superhuman effort by Michael Owen (or anyone else for that matter), between now and the departure date.
    Personally I hope Michael Owen makes it, because I think that no other (English) goal scorer, in the right place, at the right time, will find the right touch, as often as he does!

  • Comment number 76.

    #68 Phil McNulty

    To take your points in turn:-

    Para 1 - Stating the bleedin' obvious about the likelyhood of playing after scoring.

    Para 2 - This is why you are a journalist, busy championing individuals and Capello is a manager of a TEAM. What do you think that you know that someone of Capello's experience doesn't?

    Para 3 - Shearer was a great goalscorer, but what about managing a team? How can you hang on Shearer's every word for this paragraph and yet seemingly ignore, or at best contradict, what Capello knows and the evidence to support his opinion (the qualifying campaign) in para 2.

    Para 4 - As group winners, the prospects are good but let's wait for the draw for the knockout stages before we go much further than that.

    Para 5 - With all the eulogising about Barcelona last season, let us not forget that they were moments away from losing at Stamford Bridge and scored with what I think was their only shot on target all night. Add that to the refereeing that night and then tell me that Chelsea, and perhaps others, can't match Barcelona.

    Para 6 - Substanceless hyperbole.

    Para 7 - Chelsea have played pretty well with the ball in all the 'blip' and have created many chances. It is likely that the only team to beat Chelsea would be Chelsea themselves with individual errors. (That said, I thought Blackburn were pretty good last Wednesday, and arguably deserved their result more than Man City or Apoel Nicosia.)

  • Comment number 77.

    No doubt that when Owen plays, he looks a solid player. However, he and Capello had a bit of a tiff whilst both were at Real Madrid (which eventually led to Owen's departure) which Capello hasn't seen past yet, hence his lack of selection during Capello's tenure as national boss.

  • Comment number 78.

    "70. At 11:03am on 10 Dec 2009, fabulousRedsReds wrote:
    Well, debate is good but I am confused by this: One minute we hear that this could be the year that England wins the WC - the next minute we are debating whether Owen, Beckham, Heskey etc should be on the plane to SA! These players have nothing new to put on the tabel. We have seen them so many times that we can predict with great accuracy that, at best, they add nothing to the England side. They are probably less useful than they were at thier prime.. Look at players that will not be there - Van der Sar, Zanetti, Ayala, Demichelis etc etc all better that these former England greates. At some point one has to move on and try something new, otherwise same old faces and same old failures."

    I can see the point your making but surely it is the blend of players (those with experienced mixed with those unproven but potential) that is the key to any international teams success. I'd agree that as we haven't won much there can be little argument for say fielding the exact team from the last world cup (if that were even possible) but i would argue that certain players were unlucky to be under the stewardship of poor managers who didn't choose the right blend of the personnel they had at their diposal.

    Doubters of England (who do have some valid points to be fair, it is hard to defend our international record) often say our players are inferior and point to Erkison's 'golden generation' as proof that we can't win even when we do have some good players. I would say to that though that Sven was an average manager who was very poor at choosing the right blend of players. He had spells when he played Heskey on the left wing (a position he always had trouble with), he consistently played rooney and owen together when they are not a good partnership and persistently failed (right to the end of hie reign) to solve the gerrard/lampard dilemma.

    Enter capello, he plays heskey alongside rooney to complement his skills set and to give england a a target man to help with some of our passing deficiencies. He plays lampard in a deeper role and put gerrard on the left with a licence to roam. We look a far better team as a result and it that sort of tactical insight that imo we have lacked under previous regimes. People can argue that sven had good qualifying campaigns but so did ever other manager who took us to a major competition. I am hoping that capello won't let us limp out of game against a good team when they are down to 10 men... i think he is better than that.

  • Comment number 79.

    Only United's previous number 7, Ronaldo, has more Champions League goals this season than Owen.

  • Comment number 80.

    I’ve read with interest the comments on this page, re: for and against Michael Owen, all of which agree! Michael Owen exhibits a skill on the pitch that entices commentary. There’s no doubt he’s a suitably qualified and experienced footballer with an appetite to score goals and should represent his country, who amongst us does not want the best footballers in the English team.

  • Comment number 81.

    Phil your Owen should be going if Beckham does is a little bit of a twisted comparison.

    First - Beckham (1 world cup foot injury aside) is a lot less injury prone than Owen, chances are if we take him, he'll be fit for all the games if he doesn't get taken out by someone, Owen on the other hand has been taking lessons from the Saha Injury school and if named on the bench might get injured before he puts his bum down! So Owen should stay home

    Second - There are (in most peoples consideration) 4 Strikes who (on current form) deserve to be there in front of Owen, do we have 4 right midfielders in front of Beckham? We don't even have 2! Every person given a chance to take that position in the last few years has well documented weaknesses, and all have failed at some point. Sad as it is for the English media to stomach (who seem to hate beckham just because their hate campaign after 98 failed spectacularly) if we took 2 players for each position, he'd get in our top 22, we simply don't have that many better midfielders. We have plenty of fitter forwards who are (currently, not 5 years ago) as good or better than owen, so Owen should stay home.

    Third - If we take crouch (which most people think we will) we should take Beckham. If I rememeber Beckham set up 3 goals for crouch in the last world cup, the only person to play for england in recent years who can put a pinpoint cross into the box almost every time besides beckham is Carrick, and he's not looking likely to go. Without Beckham we don't have any decent crossers, thats poor!

    Fourth - Beckham scores too. In fact he has the record for goals in consecuative world cups, and who would bet against him curling in a late free kick in a tight game in the last 16 or quarters? I for one wouldn't! Looking at the amount of goals that come from set-pieces it's foolish in the extreeme to say he shouldn't go because all he can do is take free kicks, I would put a lot of money on more goals comming from set pieces than free play in the world cup, of the 32 teams only about 4 play nice free-flowing football, the rest will try to break the game down, that leads to free kicks, and we still have no-one better at putting one away.

    Finally - Heskey - If heskey goes, and most people think he will, despite most not wanting him too, then owen likes playing with him. That is the only area I can think of owen beats Beckham in.

    4-1 Beckham.

    Beckham in, Owen home.

  • Comment number 82.

    Phil, its not an adequate defence. Your line being, if he is fit and scoring goals- he has to be included in the World Cup squad. Under the Capello tactical framework it is not the ideal forward partnership that would yield the best return. Its baffling that people don't get this.

    Heskey, Rooney partnership would work better in the current setup. Both players will press and hassle the defenders and midfielders when they're not in possession. Both link up play very well, which would give Lampard the license to do what he does best. Running from deep and scoring goals or provide the assist. Heskey holds up the ball and brings others into play. Rooney can beat players one-on-one and score from virtually anywhere.

    Owen does not press, hold up the ball or link up play. In fact he doesn't do any of those things and if so, very little meaning Lampard will be more ineffective. Owen is just a pure goal poacher, feeding off good balls that the midfield would provide. That would need creativity! I am not sure Barry or Lampard would provide those incisive passes that Owen would require. I can only think of Joe Cole doing that, but then Capello would have a whole lot of other permutations to ponder about in order to accommodate this. He would then need a proper DM to protect Cole, and the only one you've got is Owen Hargreaves- and he is permanently injured. And even if he were fit, Lampard or Gerrard would have to be the ones sacrificed, and then the media would scramble all over his back once again for leaving them out (you probably being one of them).

    Crouch has to be there, because he is in good form and is a brilliant option up front. So now we have Heskey/Cole, Rooney and Crouch. Now Capello decides, I need one goal poacher in my team that could change a game around, that will have to be...... DEFOE. The only way Owen will go to SA is if Defoe gets injured. Owen doesn't deserve to pip Defoe for the England spot under current performance no matter how many important goals he has scored against 'world class' opposition in the past. Defoe hasn't scored against world class opposition because he has never been given the opportunity.

  • Comment number 83.

    "At some point one has to move on and try something new, otherwise same old faces and same old failures."

    Interesting point "fabulousRedsReds" but Capello is certainly not an old face, is he? Changing faces is in phases and it is gradual. Italy in 2002 World Cup under Trapatonni was in shambles in Korea but Totti, Nesta, Grosso, Gattuso, Cannavaro, Del Pierro etc were all there. Italy in 2006 under Lippi were a World Cup winner with the same old folks well of course except Lippi and the new guys like Gilardinho, Iaquinta. Interesting, isn't it?

    Remember the impact Zinedine Zidane had on the French team in 2006. Zidane is of another class altogether but we don't know who might pull it off for England.

  • Comment number 84.

    Half the people moaning about the Owen talk on here probably haven't watched him play more than one or two games this season.

    I'm not a Man Utd fan, obviously, but I've always loved watching Owen play. Any youngster who dreams of being a top forward should, too.

    His movement and football brain are second to none. He runs in little circles to constantly create himself space in between defenders and by constantly moving around, he makes it almost impossible for defenders to stick with him.

    He gets into positions more than any strikers I can think of and while he hasn't scored as many as Defoe this season, he also hasn't started as many games.

    Why do people feel you have to have something 'new' on the table at the World Cup if you're going to win it? Owen is a proven international goalscorer; Carlton Cole isn't. David Beckham can cross a ball and put a free-kick in like no other; Shaun Wright-Phillips can't. Joe Cole can provide experience and flair in midfield while chipping in with goals here and there; Ashley Young can't.

    For me, the squad should contain five strikers and they should be Rooney, Owen, Defoe, Crouch and Heskey.

    Four of the five have goals in them and one is vital to Rooney being able to play in a free role because he does all the donkey work.

    Rooney will be key to England's challenge and if he plays alongside Defoe, he wouldn't be able to do half the things he does when alongside Heskey.

    People keep going on about Capello knowing best but then moan about Heskey being in the squad...

    For me, if he is scoring goals and staying fit, he has to go to South Africa. He will score at a World Cup, whereas Carlton Cole wouldn't in my opinion.

  • Comment number 85.

    All those Owen hater ou there seem to just folow the crowd and the 'JIBBER JABBER' of what is said surrounding this hot topic. well everybody knows that goals speak for everything and so do facts. I picked up this from a coomet above from Cameron:

    Domestic: Matches: 332 / Goals: 159 = 0.47 goals per match
    International: Matches: 89 / Goals: 40 = 0.44 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 238 / Goals: 91 = 0.38 goals per match
    International: Matches: 55 / Goals: 25 = 0.45 goals per match

    Domestic: Matches: 479 / Goals: 111 = 0.23 goals per match
    International: Matches: 57 / Goals: 7 = 0.12 goals per match

    these are the facts people so why are we all fighting in different corner. We all want to win the world cup, and do it by beating team well and scoring as many goals as possible. Owen is a striker who other teams and managers fear. so in this case he should be on the plane, all depending on his fitness and that his goals dont dry up. But that can be said for the rest of the strikers. LET THE FACTS DO THE TALKING. Owen will go to the world cup and he will be a great character in the squad, more so than David Beckham,,, if i were capello i would take both of them...

  • Comment number 86.

    I've read a few of the top comments on this bloke and i'd have to say i'm in the middle, sure he's NOT on top of his game and he HAS got along way to go, but you also have to consider wat he has done for England in the past! without him in previous cups we wouldn't of got anywhere near as far as we did if we was to of played someone like Heskey etc... although i must say his hat trick in Germany was quite an easy one, the other players contributed most to the goals, so not all of the credit should go to Owen!!!!

  • Comment number 87.

    On Man United's champions league prospects Phil,

    I don't think we have quite enough this year If I'm totally honest. People are saying United are more methodical this year without Ron and tevez, without the potent threat up front, and I have to agree. This year they don't look like they could go and demolish a team from start to finsh. Against West Ham, and Pompey once they went clear, they played some lovely stuff, but it seems to me until they get the break through they are playing very controlled and measured, - almost within themselves, which comes to my next point. I think United so far this season, - particulalrly earlier on, weren't starting to play until they had to, i.e. they are a goal down our level perhaps approaching the hour mark. Best example of this Wolfsburg home game. HT. 0-0, - no urgency in their play. They fall 1-0 down and suddenly come to life. Within five minutes their back level, and Carrick scores a deserved winner 15 minutes from th end. Another great Champions League example of this is CSKA at home.

    Another point however, I don't see a dominant team/ few teams this year. Barca were very unconvinving in qualification, as were Inter, - Real madrid not great, and Chelsea, - nothing startling, which is what makes it so open to me this year. I wouldn't be surprised if a so called smaller team make it to the Semi's/ Quarters, maybe a Fiorentina or a Lyon.

    Just a quicky, how do Liverpool fans rate their Europa League prospects,
    - I wouldn't be confident at all on recent showings.

  • Comment number 88.

    As an Arsenal follower, it's fairly obvious to me that Arsenal won't win the Premier League but should finish in the top four again, though finishing anything other than top of the pile is academic because for me, Arsenal not winning the Champions League matters not one jot. Since AC Milan had their initial ban overturned after being found guilty of their involvement of the match fixing scandal of a few years back, and going onto subsequently win it against Liverpool in the final, proving that cheats DO prosper (I aim that not at the players at the time but whoever 'pulled the strings' presumably at board level - cheats are still cheats, though), the Champions League is an utterly discredited competition, as Serie A has been and will be for all time.

  • Comment number 89.

    Re Nibs
    "As for Owen who seems to be the only subject of the debate, the only reason United and Liverpool would even consider having someone like him to occupy a place their squad, regardless of whether they paid him or not, is because they haven't got the prestige and more important the money to attract the hot property of world football for that position."


    Haven't got the prestige? Im not sure where you have been for last few years; but you haven't been watching the EPL.
    If anyone has prestige, its United; one of the most highly decorated sides in the world with arguably the best manager (from a player's perspective, tutorage under SAF can craft the best players in the world).

    As for Liverpool, yes i agree they haven't shown themselves to be dangerous this season but think back to the start of the season...they had prestige in bundles aswell.

    I agree with Phil to an extent, although i feel some people have misunderstood the gist of this blog. Yes the subject was predictable, but then again these blogs are meant to be slightly sensationlist to encourage us lot to voice our opinions - and i have read some very good ones.
    I think what Phil was suggesting is that after this performance, you can't ignore the "possibility" of MO making the England team. I don't think MO has come even close to making the mark yet, but you wouldn't be a pundit if you didn't consider a revered striker who has a chance of picking up some momentum.
    As for his fitness, apart from Chelsea's excellent fitness staff, MO couldn't be a better place to improve his fitness, and SAF is slowly giving Michael mre time to stretch his legs- look what SAF did for Ryan Giggs after sorting out his back problem; you wouldn't even know he had an injury to start with!
    A few more goals combined with some consistent displays will get Capello thinking, only time will tell of course.
    PS. Bent should not be included in the England squad, not a bad striker but hasn't got the calibre for WC football

  • Comment number 90.

    'Remember the impact Zinedine Zidane had on the French team in 2006. '

    Marco Materazzi sure remembers the impact Zidane had on him.

  • Comment number 91.

    Why would you not take owen as a 4th choice striker? He would be peferct to take to the world cup, he has plenty of experience and a goal scoring record like no other, I think he has to go as a 4th choice and what a good asset he would be, Theo Walcott went to the last world cup..

  • Comment number 92.

    Your title reads wrong - our hopes are still the same. The game on Tuesday changed nothing. It wasn't an important game anyway. Owen scored 3 when one was enough. There was no pressure really. I don't think we have a better case for Owen here.

    United will do well. I'll say we can beat Barca as they're a notch down from last year. Eto'o has left a gap. I'm wary of Inter... Real in the later rounds.

    Chelsea are consistent for half a dozen games and then something inexplicable happens that puts a blemish on their pattern.

    Arsenal are soft, touch-me-not kind of a team. They won't win the CL or the PL.

  • Comment number 93.

    68. At 10:55am on 10 Dec 2009, philmcnultybbcsport wrote:

    "On a wider point, what do fans think about their Champions League prospects after the group stage and looking at those they might face in the last 16?"

    The best players now play in La Liga and not in England.

    United and Arsenal have 6 players who will be STARTING in the World Cup which is the ultimate showcase; Real Barcelona and Chelsea have at least 10 each.

    In the player of the year nominations the top player in the Premier League is round about 8th, this is why the English teams are not expected to be at the sharp end of this competition.

    So it's not a surprise that in this year's Uefa country coefficient England is third behind Spain and even Italy. However this is with the English teams enjoying exclusive top seeding from the previous years, without this advantage they'd be further behind.

    Looking into each side individually:

    United are weaker than last year IN EVERY DEPARTMENT. Gk, defense, midfield and attack. As a result their European performances this year have been anything but convincing. In 3 of their 6 games in a very easy group they have had very late or narrow or fortunate results which could have gone the other way, and in one of the tough groups they'd probably be out by now. Last year they were played off the park by Barcelona and in each of the legs vs Porto they weren't the better of the 2 sides. Therefore how they'd fare this year in comparison is anyone's guess. Nonetheless as finalists of the past 2 years they can't be written off altogether.

    Arsenal's defense and defensive midfield is pretty weak so they are leaking goals from everywhere at the moment. Their only classy striker is also injured. They've had the easiest group and they've proven to be struggling when top sides attack them and don't stay back. Them and United will be hoping to avoid Lyon, Bayern, Porto and maybe Inter else they may be in trouble sooner rather than later.

    Chelsea have the best squad all around and the best chance of the 3, they've also come close in the past. However they were poor against Apoel a very weak side in both legs, and for those who remember they laboured in the 2 'benchmark' games against Porto, who will say they deserved a result in both. They also seem to be on a bad run at the moment, their defense doesn't look as solid as in the past eg. set pieces and Terry on Tuesday and they lack some pace in attack; Copa Africa may also take its toll. Also last year's Nou Camp game indicated the gap in class to Barcelona, and even against a makeshift, patched up or 3-man defense they didn't get through.

    THEREFORE: Barcelona the favourites although playing Ibrahimovic may hamper them, Real 2nd but they'll only get better, Chelsea 3rd, United & Arsenal very small to no chance unless draw is kind or they get lucky. As in every knockout competition a lot will depend on the draw, injuries/suspensions and good fortune in the games.

  • Comment number 94.

    As a Utd fan, this kind of debate makes my heart melt. And am rubbing my fingers in glee knowing Owen is gonna bag more goals SO AS TO GET INTO THE ENLAND SQUARD.

  • Comment number 95.

    AS a united fan i realise I will be see nas biased but even when he is not scoring Owen's movement and ability to make space for others is an invaluable asset for anyone he is paired with up front be it Rooney, Crouch, Heskey whoever. When looking at the English forward options I would favour bringing OWen on to win us a game or even start with rather than Bent or Defoe. The country has gone mad for Defoe but he has been around for a while now has never topped the scoring charts or been close and until recently wasn't even a regular first choice at spurs (hence his move to Portsmouth). Yes he has done well recently and does have an eye for goal but Owen is proven at all levels against the best in the world not a below par Holland and 2nd and third rate international teams. I would still take Defoe along with Rooney, Crouch, Heskey and Owen all of which can play together as a partnership. It is at least worth a go and a more viable bet than Bent or Cole.

  • Comment number 96.

    It would be interesting if Owen got called up but perhaps not as surprising as everyone may think. Capello does not let stubborness get in the way of the best team selection - at Real Madrid he dropped Beckham but when his form picked up had him back in the first XI to win La Liga. So he is willing to be humble and reverse decisions about inclusion.
    I have read that Capello only intends to have four strikers at the world cup and three goalkeepers - I would go for five and two, as strikers can be versitile in play. That said, I'm not an England manager and trust the Italian knows what he's doing!
    The problem is not neccessarily if Owen is good enough, but also if he is top of the England list. The method of big man - little man works well for England with Heskey and Carlton Cole effective in the big man role, Rooney and Defoe scoring plenty as the little men and Crouch having a great scoring record to offer something different. I would take Rooney, Cole, Defoe, Crouch and Owen, but if Capello only takes four then obviously one has to miss out. Also, including Owen now can disrupt the system that has worked so well to get us to the world cup.

  • Comment number 97.

    Why does everyone keep mentioning about Owen?! He isn't going to make the World Cup in a million years. He's past it now, and isn't going to get in ahead of Rooney and Defoe. Defoe has already scored in the league alone this season, and is top scorer, and in the best form of his life.

    I'm sick of everyone saying to take Owen, just cos of his goalscoring record from years ago for England and the fact that he's at United. It's the whole big 4 mentality. Capello will choose players based on form, not whether you're at a massive club or not. That's why Owen hasn't played for England under Capello.

    He won't take 3 little strikers, and Rooney and Defoe are already nailed on. So all this talk is pointless.

    P.S. I always like Owen but you have to move with the times and 3 goals against Wolfsburg won't change my mind about that

  • Comment number 98.

    England's striker priority should be:

    1. Rooney - goes without saying
    2. Crouch - whatever you think, he is Mr Dependable for England and happy to take his place on the bench or lead the line - he's a latter day Sheringham
    3. Defoe - arguably in the best form of his career, focused and full of confidence - it would be foolish to ignore this
    4. Walcott - provides both speed and creativity, a mix no one else can offer - he can be a game-turner from the bench

    In my opinion Owen is battling with Bent and Cole for that fifth spot (which may not even exist in the World Cup squad, although Walcott can be seen as a winger option too). Of the three you'd be inclined to opt for Owen, partly for his experience, bu partly because he's playign week in and out with Rooney so if he plays they'll have had plenty of practice, compared to a 'stranger' partnership involving Cole or Bent. The January transfer window could come into play however, if the rumours are true and Cole joins Man Utd (or Arsenal for that Walcott partnership).

  • Comment number 99.

    There are lots of suggestions around that Fabio Capello has already made up his mind and Owen won't be going to South Africa. I cannot believe that is actually the case.

    Capello will explore every avenue that could lead to England winning the World Cup and he has no need to close any down until the day he has to name his squad.

    I am sure he will be in contact with Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as his other contacts, to monitor Owen. I just simply believe - and always have - that a fit Michael Owen must be in England's World Cup squad. And note I said "squad", not "team". And while I may not agree with them, there have certainly been some very valid points made for why he shouldn't go to South Africa.

    Let's keep the debate going - and widen it out to the Champions League and how you think England's three remaining clubs will fare.

  • Comment number 100.

    I have stated before that Liverpool boss Benitez should have made a play for Owen in the summer and he has now shown exactly why. I make no apologies for repeating that view and Liverpool's tame exit from the Champions League strengthens the argument.

    This not being wise after the event, especially as the prospect of a return to Anfield would have, in all likelihood, been even more enticing to Owen than a deal at Old Trafford.

    Yes, they probably should have gone for him, on a free it should have been a no-brainer for Rafa. Unfortunately I disagree he would have wanted to rejoin us, he plays for himself and all the goals he scored for us are to him individual and not team achievements. He's a judas for joining one of our rivals. He deserved the stick he got for the way he joined them, parading the scarf over his head and generally acting in a way that rubbed it in Liverpool fans faces.

    That said he is different class as a finisher. He is the most natural finisher this country has and to ignore that is to show great stupidity. You can't argue against his record at international level. For me, if he is fit and has played regularly ( something I see as unlikely) then he should be ahead of Defoe, who other than being a supersub is not first choice quality. Unfortunately for England he won't play enough games, unless Rooney or Berbatov get injured, so therefore I think Capello would be justified in not picking him. A shame, but only something Owen can blame himself for, he should have gone somewhere where he would have been first choice striker.


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