Owen form remains concern for Eriksson

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The Independent Online

While England's medical staff will be anxious to check Michael Owen's physical condition when the squad report for training at Carrington today, the coach will be just as concerned about his striker's state of mind.

While England's medical staff will be anxious to check Michael Owen's physical condition when the squad report for training at Carrington today, the coach will be just as concerned about his striker's state of mind. Sven Goran Eriksson's concerns about how Owen is faring at Real Madrid will not have been eased by his performance in the 1-0 defeat at home to Deportivo la Coruña on Sunday. After an ineffective first-half display, Owen was substituted seven minutes after the interval.

Owen has started only two games for Real this season and has yet to score, though Mariano Garcia Remon, the Real coach, said his display against Deportivo was "a performance worthy of praise" and insisted that the former Liverpool player had been substituted on medical advice. "The doctors said at half-time that he had a slight muscle problem, so rather than force things we thought it was best to rest him," he said.

Owen, who has been England's most consistent scorer with 27 goals in 63 internationals, is in the squad for the World Cup qualifying matches against Wales at Old Trafford on Saturday and against Azerbaijan in Baku next Wednesday.

Eriksson spoke to Owen yesterday and revealed that he may miss one or two training sessions this week because of a hamstring injury but he was confident he would be available for selection for Saturday. "Michael has a slight problem with his hamstring, but we believe it is only a minor issue," Eriksson said. "Michael will meet up with the rest of the squad on Tuesday and our medical staff will assess him."

With Wayne Rooney restored to fitness, Eriksson has to decide who will partner him. The choice could boil down to Owen or Tottenham Hotspur's Jermain Defoe, who capped an excellent display with a goal in the last match, away to Poland last month. Eriksson knows that Owen, like most strikers, needs both match practice and confidence if he is to perform at his best. He agreed last week that sitting on the bench for Real would not help his career prospects. Eriksson is particularly concerned about his lack of first-team opportunities.

The knives are already out for Owen in some sections of the Spanish media. Tomas Roncero, a columnist for the sports daily newspaper AS, wrote yesterday: "Owen is a trash Galactico. The day that Real signed Owen, sold [Samuel] Eto'o to Barça [Barcelona] and lost Vieira did irreparable damage to the club... Rafa Benitez [Liverpool's new manager] celebrated Owen's departure by cracking open the champagne. Owen has done nothing for the cause, he's deprived [Fernando] Morientes of minutes on the pitch.... He's no Galactico."

At least Real are being supportive. Emilio Butragueno, their sporting director, said: "I was a striker, and strikers miss chances. What he needs to do is to remain calm, and I am certain his moment will come." Many Real observers were surprised to see Owen chosen ahead of Morientes, who came on for the Englishman. Morientes agreed to return to Real after being assured by the then coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, that he would be given his chance. Immediately after Morientes agreed to stay, the Real president, Florentino Perez, signed Owen.

Morientes was asked yesterday if he was happy that Owen had been a centre of attention in recent weeks. "Owen was the president's personal signing and you will have to ask him to explain why he signed him," he said. "I presume he is happy with him. We all know what Owen has done in football. But I'm not here to complain, I know how it works and I will await my opportunity."

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