Owen's welcome for Gerrard as co-striker

Former Anfield team-mate classed as the perfect footballer by England's arch predator
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The Independent Online

Michael Owen has hailed Steven Gerrard as "the perfect footballer" as England conclude their countdown to the World Cup finals with this week's friendly internationals against Hungary and Jamaica at Old Trafford.

The Newcastle player believes Gerrard could play the role of a secondary striker in a 4-4-1-1 type of formation if Sven Goran Eriksson preferred that option to playing Peter Crouch alongside Owen in the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney.

Gerrard has impressed in that position on several occasions for Liverpool, most notably during the second half of the Champions' League final triumph over Milan last season. But Owen's faith in his former Anfield team-mate is such that he is confident Gerrard could successfully operate anywhere if required.

"Can Steven Gerrard be used as a second striker? It's being brought to light now because he had a great game in the FA Cup final against West Ham," said Owen. "But everyone has always known you could play him up front. Everyone has also known you could play him at right-back, left-back, or even centre-half.

"If you want to look for a perfect footballer just look at Steven Gerrard He's got great athleticism, he's quick. In fact, he's about just got everything. He could play in any position and do it well."

While Gerrard may be approaching his prime, Theo Walcott is just starting out on his international career, and the 17-year-old impressed Owen as a substitute in Thursday's B international against Belarus at Reading. Owen said: "I think Theo handles the weight of expectation fine. He is quite a level-headed lad. To be fair, I think everyone expected him to handle it fine. It was unfortunate we weren't on top of our game and playing good football and creating against Belarus, because Theo is like me. In that if we are not getting good-quality ball in and around the final third, you can look as ineffective as anyone. He was starved of much quality but, when he did get the ball, he looked really sharp.

"He had a great shot from 25 to 30 yards, and that tells its own story. It was quite frustrating that one of our best chances was a 30-yard shot in the second half.

"Theo seemed fine beforehand. Everyone wished him good luck. Even though it was a B international, I am sure he was as nervous as if it was a full international, particularly being a striker. We get kicked up in the air more than anyone."

While speculation continues over the kind of impact, if any, Rooney will make in the World Cup - the Manchester United player will travel to Germany but return to his club for another scan on his metatarsal on 14 June - Owen is convinced he himself is back to full sharpness. An on-song Owen would be a strong contender to lift the Golden Boot, and he is also chasing Bobby Charlton's all-time England record of 49 goals.

But Owen, who has netted 35 times in 75 internationals, would take more pleasure from England lifting the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. He said: "That record would be fantastic to hold, but it is still many, many goals and many, many games away. As for the Golden Boot, you'd treasure it if you got it but I wouldn't set out to win it. I'd prefer to win the golden trophy by a long way. I'd love to be the man who scores the goals, but the only thing that matters is winning the World Cup."

Owen has his sights set high for what England can achieve in Germany: "I wouldn't settle for getting knocked out in the last four. The aim is certainly to get to the semi-finals, but it wouldn't stop there."

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