Football: World Cup - Players hoping to give pace a chance

With his speed, ability and belief, the stage is now set for the arrival of Michael Owen. By Glenn Moore
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LIKE A LOT of people in football Steve McManaman can remember the first time he saw Michael Owen play. It was a quiet afternoon in Liverpool and he had wandered up to Anfield to watch a youth team game. "He just stood out," recalled McManaman yesterday. "It was just like the first time I saw Robbie Fowler play two or three years earlier."

"Robbie scored five goals for the first team when he was 18 [against Fulham] and has gone on to have a phenomenal goalscoring record. I'd love to think Michael will do the same.

"He's very relaxed with a great temperament. I've every confidence in him if he plays. Nothing fazes him, he's been well brought up by his family and by the people at Liverpool. If he plays against Colombia I have every confidence in him."

Owen is expected to start in Lens tonight and Sol Campbell, with a defender's perspective, explained why. "All the best strikers here have some kind of pace and his pace would frighten anyone. His size is also an asset. Players who are small and quick are often harder to deal with than ones who are big and quick.

"By itself, however, pace is not enough, you have to have football sense too. He's very intelligent with his runs. If you give him half a chance he'll go by you."

McManaman added: "He reads the game well, has good control and he believes if he gets a chance he'll score. Goalscorers are like that. On Monday he came on and changed the game. He wants to score goals and if you put ball in box he'll be there.

"We know if we give him the ball in a dangerous position he'll go at the defender and beat him. The first thing he does when he gets the ball is go at people with pace and that frightens the life out of defenders.

"He has played a lot of games and people have talked about resting him but he was playing that well last season it was impossible to leave him out. He was the star man among the forwards. I just hope it doesn't catch up with him around Christmas and Liverpool suffer because of his lack of rest."

There is no sign of that at present with Owen, despite playing more than 50 games this season he looks to be one of the freshest in the squad. "It's very exciting," said John Gorman, England's assistant coach. "We are in at the start of what, barring injury, could be a fantastic career.

"He's a confident young lad but not too confident. He's not afraid to voice his opinion but he accepts what the coaches have to say. He'll have a laugh and joke with the lads and is very much part of everything."

More so than McManaman whose apparent absence even from consideration for selection has irked the Liverpool manager Roy Evans. "Macca appears to have become England's forgotten man," said Evans yesterday. "I just can't believe he isn't getting a mention given how dangerous he is with the ball at his feet running at people. I'm not trying to tell Glenn Hoddle who to pick but some of the stuff he produced for us last season was outstanding."

The player himself is relatively phlegmatic. "It's frustrating, especially when we were getting beat, but I'm totally committed to the lads," he said. McManaman's prospects should be helped by Owen's emergence. As Campbell said: "At Liverpool the midfield are on his wavelength, they give him balls which make the most of his pace. If that isn't the case his runs may not be picked up."