The mantra of Michael Owen: 'Goalscoring - I eat, sleep and drink it'

Little striker reborn and primed for the big challenge
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The Independent Football

St James' had seen nothing quite like it, nothing as farcical, since... well, until three days later, when Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer started knocking seven bells out of one another out on the pitch. Carlos, it transpired, had got somewhat ahead of himself - somewhat more advanced than he was when he outflanked the Italian defence to score the signature goal of Brazil's 1970 World Cup final tour de force. He had been under the impression that Owen had proclaimed he would eclipse Malcolm Macdonald's record-breaking five-goal haul for England against Cyprus in 1975 - a very mistaken impression.

Anyone who knows even the public persona of Michael Owen, the painstakingly self-effacing public persona of Michael Owen, knows he would be more likely to request a trial with the towering Harlem Globetrotters than to indulge in what might be termed as bigging himself up. As England prepare for their two dates with World Cup qualification destiny at Old Trafford, against Austria next Saturday afternoon and Poland the following Wednesday night, it is strictly for others to suggest that Owen might be starting to live up to his rather sizeable reputation once again.

In truth, his standing as one of the globe's great, natural goalscorers has never greatly diminished. Although he spent most of last season warming the bench at the Bernabeu, Owen proved himself to be the David Fairclough of the Primera Liga, plundering an unequalled goals-per-minute ratio as a supersub in Spain. He was also on the mark for England at Old Trafford in March, in the summary 4-0 dismissal of Northern Ireland, and scored a hat-trick against Colombia in May.

Still, it has been reassuring for all England followers to see Owen back in prime poaching form in the Premiership; although a "dead leg" kept him off the pitch against Ports-mouth yesterday, it is not regarded as serious. The flashing header against Blackburn and the toe-poke against Manchester City were both first-time finishes born of supreme instinct, timing and execution. His debut for Newcastle might have been as frustrating as the night he spent in less-than-splendid striking isolation for England at Windsor Park last month, but the £17 million man has swiftly got himself back in the groove again on home soil.

"Confidence is a good thing as a striker," Owen reflected. "Everyone knows me by now. I am 25. I have played in the Premiership for 90 per cent of my career and everyone knows that I will score goals, given the chance. Some will say I don't contribute in certain other areas and that is a fair comment, because I am not the size of [the 6ft] Alan Shearer and people like that. My game is all about scoring goals. If someone gives me a chance, I normally stick it away."

For England, Owen has stuck away 32 chances in 72 internationals. His goals haul for England is greater than that of his new Newcastle team-mate; Shearer scored 30. Only Bobby Charlton (49), Gary Lineker (48) and Jimmy Greaves (44) have scored more. With the prospect of at least five more years in the international firing line, the chances are that Owen will end up in the record books. In fact, with 21 goals in competitive matches for England, he is only one behind Lineker's national mark in that department.

At 25, Owen is still young, and his appetite for goals remains undiminished. "There is no better feeling than when the ball hits the back of the net," he said. "It is what I go to bed thinking about and what I wake up thinking about. I think about it when I'm eating and drinking. It's what my life is about: scoring goals. I eat, sleep and drink it."

Owen came back to the Premiership specifically to keep himself in the World Cup picture, and his hunger and desire can only help the national side in their quest to reach the finals in Germany next summer. "We have to win our [next] two games and that's probably a good thing," England's "midget" gem pondered. "We know what we have to do. There could be a second bite of the cherry, in the play-offs, but we expect to win the group we're in. I'm confident that we can."

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