Michael Owen's suitability to play for England was the subject of a letter sent by Newcastle United to the Football Association this week in which the club raised concerns about the striker's fitness to play in the two forthcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers. This latest development came after it emerged that Owen is privately angry at attempts by his club to say he is not ready to play for his country.
The Independent has learned that while the letter from Newcastle did not say specifically that Owen was not fit to play against Estonia on Saturday and Russia four days' later it did make observations about his fitness. It is not clear whether Owen is aware of the correspondence between Newcastle and the FA but it is sure to deepen his suspicion that his club have tried to discourage Steve McClaren from playing him in the two Euro 2008 qualifiers.
In the meantime it would appear that McClaren is preparing to leave out Frank Lampard in favour of Gareth Barry for Saturday's match. The Chelsea man has been a regular in the side since 2003 although Barry's performances in the Israel and Russia games have impressed the England manager, who will finalise his team plans tomorrow after the players have today off.
Owen normally steers well clear of controversy but he made his feelings very clear yesterday at a press conference at which he was adamant that he had been fit to play for club and country since last Thursday. He even said he told manager Sam Allardyce that he could have started Sunday's game against Everton in which he made a substitute's appearance. Despite that, Newcastle still sent the letter to the FA, which is sure to fuel the tension that is understood to already exist between Owen and Allardyce.
The letter from Newcastle is the latest in a series of exchanges between the club and Owen over his fitness and the striker was keen to set the record straight yesterday. While it is not uncommon for the FA to receive a letter about a player's fitness from his club, this one arrived just as Owen was spelling it out to the press just how sure he is that there have been no repercussions from his recent surgery.
Usually serene when he speaks to the press, Owen himself admitted yesterday that he was in an "aggressive" mood about the subject and began by announcing "the injury is no longer". Certain to start alongside Wayne Rooney in attack on Saturday, Owen said that his recovery from a double hernia and abductor muscle surgery on 5 October had been completed by Thursday.
"By Thursday the injury was obviously fine, I could continue playing just like the surgeon said I would be able to – I was available," Owen said. "The manager could have started me [against Everton], but he put me on the bench, I came on, played quarter of an hour. I'm fit."
Later he added: "I thought people would say 'How has he got back in eight days? That's fantastic.' That they'd be talking about how I'd gone through the pain barrier to get back so quickly. But people have turned it into a negative, saying 'You've only done it for England'. You can't win."
While Owen said that his relationship with Allardyce was not an issue, there is evidence that the bad feeling between the pair even pre-dates the Newcastle manager's reign at the club. Owen is understood still to be unhappy about comments Allardyce made about his fitness before the 2006 World Cup. This was further stoked by Allardyce's comments after the game on Sunday when he said on Owen's situation – "I don't know whether two games in such a short space of time is right".
With the debate over his loyalty to club against country intensifying, Owen defended his own position in uncharacteristically emotive style. He lamented that he had suffered the same problem with Liverpool fans as he was enduring with Newcastle's supporters: that they regarded him as an England player first and a club man second.
Owen said: "My room-mate Jamie Carragher, whose family are all Liverpool or Everton fans, in the thick of things in the city, said then [when Owen was at Liverpool]: 'It is because you made your name with England, people associate you with England, until you win something with Liverpool, they will think you are England's player as opposed to Liverpool's.' That label has probably stuck with me through my career and that's unfortunate. Until we won the treble [in 2001] at Liverpool – then I definitely felt a warmth from the fans.
"If anything I've always pushed – even when I have been hurt – to play for my club, my country. Your career is so short and I'm hungry to play in any game and score any goal. So to get tagged as someone who's 'just trying to do this' or 'just trying to do that' is wrong.
"If I play crap and you tell me, then that's fine. Or if I have an injury and the specialist says it will take this amount of time to come back, I accept that. But once you are back and can tolerate the pain you just keep going.
"Then you get people saying the opposite to what she's [surgeon Dr Ulrike Muschaweck] telling you. And that's hard to take because now there are cameras up at Newcastle asking the fans 'Should he be playing?' And it causes a stir that should never ever happen."Reuse content