'I've got nothing to prove,' says Owen as Defoe waits in wings

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The Independent Football

Michael Owen reported for England duty yesterday expressing doubts about his fitness but none about his ability.

Michael Owen reported for England duty yesterday expressing doubts about his fitness but none about his ability. The Real Madrid striker had a scan on a back injury and missed England's first training session in preparation for the World Cup qualifying matches against Wales at Old Trafford on Saturday and away to Azerbaijan next Wednesday, but is still hoping to be play in both games.

Owen's form has been a concern and his problems were exacerbated when he suffered an injury early in Real Madrid's 1-0 home defeat against Deportivo La Coruña on Sunday and was substituted early in the second half. It was only his second start for Real following his move from Liverpool.

"I felt a bit of a problem after seven minutes," Owen said yesterday. "I had a bit of a tight back and felt a bit of tension going down my legs. I continued and it never got any worse. But obviously I would want to be training by Thursday and feel 100 per cent about myself and my fitness to be considered for selection on Saturday. I went for a scan today and it didn't show anything, but I am still feeling it a bit."

He added: "If I'm not feeling 100 per cent I won't play, but the physios and doctors are all positive and think I've got a very good chance. I had the same problem a couple of weeks ago and after two or three days of rest and treatment I was back and feeling great again."

Wayne Rooney's return to fitness means that one of the England striking positions is accounted for and Jermain Defoe made a strong case for taking the other with his goalscoring performance in the victory away to Poland in a World Cup qualifying match last month. Owen, meanwhile, knows his first team chances with Real have been limited and admitted that he had been desperate to do well on Sunday.

"I'd played 70 minutes twice before that, so this was a big chance to try to show a few people out there what I could do," he said. "Feeling a problem straight away in the game was obviously the worst possible thing that could have happened. That hindered the rest of my performance, though it wasn't getting any worse. I told the relevant people at half-time and let them know I wasn't feeling 100 per cent."

Despite his problems, Owen does not feel he has to convince anyone about his ability. "You know what you're going to get with me," he said. "You've seen it 63 times for England with 27 goals, and with a constant supply of goals throughout my career. I've scored in four big tournaments and I don't think I've got to prove myself in any way."

Moreover, Owen said he was not concerned about his form. "I know Madrid have not seen the best of me, but I don't feel as if I'm playing poorly," he said. "When I look through the season I've played three games for England. We've got four points from two away games and I did OK. I also scored in the friendly against Ukraine.

"At Madrid I haven't played that much. I played for 70 minutes in my first game when I came on as a sub and thought I did very well. I set up the winning goal. The only other real chance I had was the other day when I got injured. I had a reason why I wasn't at my sharpest and that was the only game in which I felt I haven't done myself justice. I have received a bit of criticism lately. I've had it before and no doubt I'll have it again. It goes round in circles. It's me one minute and it will be someone else the next. I know for a fact that Madrid haven't seen the best of me yet, but they're certainly going to, hopefully soon rather than later, and I've no doubt that I'll be a success out there.

At least Owen is receiving plenty of support from within his club. Real's president, Florentino Perez, was the latest to defend the Englishman, pointing out that plenty of other big-name signings had taken time to settle in at the Bernabeu.

"Zidane was also questioned and some people even said Madrid played better without him, while there are others who only come to games to watch him play," Perez said. "I am used to this kind of criticism. They also did the same with Luis Figo and Ronaldo. I am certain Owen will succeed. Everyone needs time to adapt."

Perez denied suggestions that he was the only person responsible for Owen's arrival, though he also pointed out that the club's coaches did not have the final verdict on transfer policy. "The club makes the signings," Perez said. "Madrid's strategy is the best in the world."

Owen said: "I've just got to be patient. I'm clicking my heels, wanting to go out and prove my point. I'm not doubting anything about myself. I'm perfectly content with myself. I've not turned into a player who's 10 times as good or 10 times as bad as I was before.

"I'd like things to settle down out there. I'd like to find a house. I've been living in a hotel for eight weeks now with a little kid [his daughter, Gemma] who wants to run around the garden all the time.

"I'd like to speak a bit more of the language and meet a few more people. It's often the case that when things aren't perfect off the pitch it's not perfect on it either.

"It's not easy, but I knew that would be the case when I went out there. I'm still up for the challenge and I'm still hungry to do well. I'm not a quitter. I'll fight to the death."

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