Michael Owen declared for the second time yesterday that he is the one in his relationship with Fabio Capello who enjoys a consistently good night's sleep. Il Duce might consider Owen his nocturnal "tormentor", to quote an utterance which was slightly gilded in translation last week, but you won't find Owen awake in the small hours. "I don't go to bed thinking if I will play for England again," he said. "I think about playing well for Manchester United and the rest will take care of itself."
But what constitutes playing well? While the England manager wants more playing time and more evidence that there are goals in Owen, the 29-year-old wants the world – and presumably Capello – to know that it is not all about how many times he lands a ball in the net (three times so far for United).
When asked yesterday to explain his suggestion, after his exquisite goal against Barnsley in the Carling Cup last week, that he felt his subsequent newspaper ratings were not quite on the mark, it became clear that he thought no one quite gets it when it comes to him and his talents.
"At Barnsley, someone said they thought I played well, scored a good goal, started talking about England and all the rest of it," he said. "But I thought I played much better the previous game against Bolton [at Old Trafford, three days earlier]. I didn't score and I missed a couple of chances. Because I scored it didn't mean I played well – I was pretty average at Barnsley – and at Bolton I thought I played really well.
"That's how my career's gone. If I don't score then I get criticised. If I do score and play poorly I get praised. That's strange."
Owen also believes there are still misconceptions about how prone he is to injuries – they were not helped by his departure from the field with a groin strain 20 minutes into the Old Trafford encounter with Wolfsburg at the end of September.
"The fact is I've only had a couple of serious injuries in my career, both linked. The others have tended to be niggly injuries and they are the type you can manage," he said. "I've always been a quick player so you're always prone to muscle [injuries]. All the quick players around are like that."
There is no doubt that he is beginning to feel at home, though. The United anthems to him are audible now ("Michael Owen is a red" rang out at Anfield) and his team-mates are beginning to appreciate the way he moves off the ball to carve out avenues of space.
So could Europe, with two more starts for Owen beckoning if United qualify tonight, help his England chances? "I suppose it can," he said. "The last squad I was in was a year ago now. It's something that other people talk about more than I think about.
"I've played for England 89 times and I would love to play for them again – that is the bottom line. It's not something I really think about now."