Michael Owen’s long awaited free transfer to Stoke City is finally complete after the former England striker put pen to paper on a one-year deal at the Britannia this week, thus ending a saga that stretched back to Owen’s release by Manchester United at the end of last season. The recriminations and insinuations on Owen’s delaying of the announcement can now end and the questions can be asked of what impact he will have for the Potters?
At the age of 32 and with Owen’s notorious injury problems, it is unlikely to think that he has been brought in to be a regular starter. However, Owen has spoken in the past of his dissatisfaction at the prospect of warming the bench at a club lower down the Premier League than Manchester United. Thus, one would think that Tony Pulis, while not guaranteeing Owen a place, would have given him assurances of regular action and with Stoke already out of the Capital One Cup and devoid of European commitments this season, that would be in the Premier League.
So far this season, Pulis has lined up in his team in a 4-4-2 formation with Jonathan Walters playing just off Peter Crouch. Although the Potters are capable switching to one up front, the arrival of Owen renders that practically impossible. Not only would that require Owen starting in place of the near-certain starter Crouch, but Owen has never had the physique nor the attributes to be the lone striker, let alone at this stage in his career.
However, alongside Crouch, Owen may thrive just as he has done when playing with other target men – notably Emile Heskey – throughout his career. Owen may not have the pace he once had to run onto Crouch’s flick-ons but it is a discredit to the Potters to claim that they simply lump the ball to their big striker. Rather, they use him cleverly, having him stand on the full backs and searching for him on the diagonal. In this sense, Owen will not have lost his awareness or sharpness in the box, as he proved almost every time he took the field for United. A superb reader of the game, Owen will know where to be for the knock-down once Crouch gets his head to the ball. Similarly, Owen’s much underrated aerial ability could provide a fruitful partnership with Charlie Adam’s set-piece precision.
Overall, it seems as if Stoke cannot lose in the signing of Owen. He may not play every week but, for nothing, they have picked up a player with the experience of scoring a lot of goals at the very highest level and will have the shrewdness to know exactly how to play in tandem with their principal striker. Added to the signings of Adam, Steven N’Zonzi, Michael Kightly and Geoff Cameron, the Owen deal represents another progressive transfer window for Stoke under Tony Pulis.
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