Football: Evans making plans to protect Owen's future

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The Independent Online
Roy Evans has vowed to protect the precocious Michael Owen from the glare of the big time, however good he may be. The 17-year-old makes his home first-team debut in Liverpool's Premiership game with Leicester City at Anfield tonight.

However, like Alex Ferguson's fatherly control over Manchester United's young stars, Evans agrees that sensible handling of footballing prodigies is the way to save them from burn-out.

Owen will share the spotlight against Leicester with England's Paul Ince, playing his first game at Anfield as Liverpool captain. Both will experience the thrill of mass adulation at Anfield for the first time, Owen because of his stunning arrival on the scene and Ince because he is now not wearing a Manchester United shirt.

Evans admits that Owen, who scored at Wimbledon on Saturday and on his debut - on the same ground last season - is determined to prove him wrong and force his way into the side. The manager said: "The way he's going, someone will have to play out of their skin to push him out.

"But Robbie Fowler is nearly fit. We could have taken a chance with him against Leicester but decided not to rush it. It all provides good competition for places.

"Whether he comes straight back in depends on a few things, but he is the top goalscorer, and leaving him out would be hard. But with Owen you have to be careful. We will try to protect him any way we can. But he has an attitude that is different to most people - he wants it now.

"You have to be protected somewhere along the line. It's not about age but being good enough - but you don't want to kill them by playing them game after game after game.

"It's nice to have an option. But sometimes you find after a kid has played 10 games on the run he'll be knackered. Then you change things around, but you can be sure he'll play a big part for us this season."

For Ince, it will be a new experience not being abused the moment he steps out at Anfield.

He said: "That obviously was a Manchester United thing. I hope they still don't want to have a go at me now. It's a bit of a surprise to be captain of the club, after being here only a few weeks. But I captained United, England and Inter, and it's a great honour and I'm looking forward to it.

"I know there are other players around who have been here longer, like Mark Wright, but the manager has decided on someone he hopes people can look up to, and that's what I'm going to try to do.

"I've had a good response from the players. I knew most of them anyway from England squads, so I feel it will go fine.

"I've had a good response, too, from the fans. Some have come up to me and said they hated me when I was at United, but not now I'm here at Anfield.

"But that was a few years ago now - it's not as if I've come here straight from United."