Realistic Owen refreshed and ready

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The Independent Football

The actions spoke as loudly as the words for Michael Owen yesterday. After an interview to promote his new autobiography he left clutching not the book but three copies of español YA!, a local Spanish-language magazine aimed at English-speaking immigrants.

Owen had said he would not be "half-hearted" when it came to assimilating into life here. He added: "I want to get settled into a house and to learn Spanish as quickly as I can. There's no point in taking half-measures if you want to make a proper fist of it."

Owen admitted that until he actually played for Real Madrid he would still "half-feel a Liverpool player", but while his old team-mates were defeating Manchester City on Saturday he was busy house-hunting in the plush Madrid suburb of La Moraleja.

David Beckham is already living there but Owen underlined the difference between the pair's situation when he said: "Obviously my girlfriend [Louise] and baby [three-year-old Gemma] will be over here permanently." The Beckhams are only now taking this step while Kate Lawlor, the girlfriend of the third amigo, Jonathan Woodgate, intends to remain in London.

But if Owen, level-headed with a quiet family life, is the Englishman likely to settle most easily to life abroad he is also one with the toughest task. That was clear as he entered the dressing-room for the first time. At the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu the pegs are in alphabetical order. Owen found his seat, looked past the peg of the defender Francisco Pavon and saw the names of Raul and Ronaldo.

"It is a rude awakening," he said in a hotel a few hundred yards down the Paseo de Castellana from his new workplace. "Obviously I'm not expecting to walk straight into the team. They have an established world-class pairing so I'll have to spend a little bit of time on the bench but I wouldn't come here if I thought I was going sit there for four years. As with Liverpool and England I will have to fight my way into the team. It's like when I was 17 and looking to get past Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore."

With respect to those two, this challenge is a bigger one. Ronaldo, three times World Player of the Year, was the top scorer in La Liga last season with 24 goals, Raul is a Madrileño legend. But Ronaldo is injury prone, and will be making frequent trips to South America for World Cup qualifiers. Raul may no longer be sacrosanct. His form has slipped and last year, after he argued with Florentino Perez, the club's autocratic and recently re-elected president, it was rumoured that Real had offered him to Chelsea. However, Owen also has Fernando Morientes to contend with.

"It is a big challenge but I've not come here to waste four years," Owen said. "I'm 24 and coming into my peak. I've done it for me as a person and as a player. I've done it to achieve success in the game, to be able to say when I've finished that I've played for Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world. Those are the reasons I've done it, all the right reasons. The least of all is the money.

"I'd like to think people are looking at me and thinking: 'Well done. You've a bit of guts about you. You've broken out of your comfort zone. You're living a new life abroad which is quite scary.' I'm sad at leaving Liverpool but proud I've made that split."

Owen said he would have remained at Liverpool had Real not come in for him, but hinted that he was getting stale. In his book he describes his frustration at Liverpool's decline over the last two seasons and the style they played under Gérard Houllier. Since early reports suggest Rafael Benitez's team are not going to be noticeably more adventurous Owen may have made the right choice.

Owen added: "I was doing well at Liverpool but maybe I needed a change of scenery, something to stretch me further."

Owen said that past and present team-mates had called to concur with this view as, significantly, did the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson. "He said 'congratulations on the decision, sometimes people need to do that'."

Real Britannia, as the locals are calling their newly Anglicised club, begin their league programme on Sunday against Real Mallorca. It being an English Bank Holiday weekend Majorca will be full of Englishmen but with Beckham no longer a novelty, and Woodgate injured, the football world will be looking at one player in particular.

Owen is undaunted. "I was born to be a footballer and if you are not going to play at the highest level when you get the opportunity you might as well just pick up your salary and take it easy. That's not me. I want to be pushing myself."

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