It has been a summer of much transition in Sir Alex Ferguson’s forward line. Cristiano Ronaldo’s much publicised courting by Real Madrid ended in an £80m switch making him the most expensive footballer ever and Carlos Tevez acrimonious departure culminated in a switch to rivals Manchester City.
When Sir Alex Ferguson resisted the summer trend of splashing the cash and opted for a free transfer in the shape of Michael Owen as a direct replacement for the Argentine many eyebrows were raised. Much has been discussed and written in the media regarding Owen’s fitness and apparent fall from grace at Newcastle United resulting in his management team feeling the need to produce a brochure touting his abundant attributes to all possible Premier League recruiters. Owen himself has maintained that he still has a lot to give at the highest level of the game and that Fergie’s questionable punt is in fact a very shrewd signing. Four goals in four games may just prove some justification for the Scotsman’s eye for a gamble, granted they came on a summer tour of Asia, but the statistics do speak for themselves.
Three of the four goals – the excellent volley apart – were scored from within the six-yard box. Not since Ruud van Nistelrooy have the Red Devils had a striker who scores from close range. Ronaldo may have played out of his skin in the previous two campaigns accruing an unbelievable tally of goals but many of these were free-kicks, penalties and sublime strikes, not many of them were scored within the six-yard box. Owen offers something not seen for a while at Old Trafford. He may not have the pace that he once had to run at defenders and beat them in that manner but as a penalty-box predator there are few better. Owen does not necessarily look like an immediate starter with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov – both impressing on tour and expected to be the first choice strikers – but it is looking like he will have a considerable part to play from the bench. Fergie has stated this week that if a fit Owen manages 25 games this season it is more than likely that he will hit the 15-goal mark. This may not fill the considerable hole left by Ronaldo but in a team boasting Rooney, Berbatov and the promising Federico Macheda, it is no small part to play.
Rooney has also jumped on the Owen bandwagon stating that this move may give him a “new lease of life” and highlighting the fact that “it would be difficult for anyone to score goals in that Newcastle side.” This somewhat derogatory comment does highlight the fact that Owen is now playing with world-class players who will find his runs enabling him to play his natural game. This has already been seen by his link up play with Dimitar Berbatov especially in the last of the four games in Asia, with Owen scoring two against Hangzhou Greentown.
Ferguson may have been nothing but complimentary regarding his new No 7 but he has been a little more scathing in his comments regarding their city rivals and their recent poster campaign. When questioned in a recent press conference Ferguson labelled Mark Hughes’s side a “small club with a small club mentality” and if Rafa Benitez’ similar sentiments towards David Moyes’ Everton side last season are anything to go by we know that the Scotsman is fully aware of the impact of making this worldwide knowledge. We are used to the fiery Scot’s mind games at the business end of the season but rarely does he feel the need to “stir the pot” before the Premier League campaign is underway. Many have questioned the need for these comments with City fans especially feeling that they are a threat to the Old Trafford outfit. We can only speculate as to the reason but one thing that we do know is how media savvy the Old Trafford boss is and there must be reason for these remarks. United have always enjoyed the limelight being primarily focused away from Old Trafford enabling them to quietly get on with the job in hand of winning league titles, the hype surrounding Liverpool last season allowed United to quietly amass a 16-game unbeaten run. Ferguson is the master of the mind game tactics and deflecting the focus from how well his forward line is in fact gelling may well be a superb move going into the start of the new Premier League campaign.
Manchester United Club Focus
Welcome to Manchester, Michael – July 29