Owen faces flying visit to Germany for surgery

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The Independent Football

Michael Owen may yet be able to play for England in their forthcoming European Championship qualifiers despite the growing belief on Tyneside last night that Owen requires a double hernia operation.

A complication is that Owen's and Newcastle United's preferred surgeon, the Munich-based Ulrike Muschaweck, is believed to be unavailable this week. That means that Owen would not see Dr Muschaweck until the weekend at the earliest, leaving the England centre-forward just a fortnight to recover before England host Estonia at Wembley.

England's more difficult qualifier against Russia in Moscow comes four days later so Owen has more chance of being ready for that game. That is still a short time to undergo an operation and then recover to something resembling match fitness. But, medically, the recovery time for a double hernia is usually the same as for a single correction and Owen and Newcastle have the example of their previous England centre-forward, Alan Shearer, to give them hope.

In November 2005, Shearer was sent by the club to Muschaweck's state- of-the-art base at the Sheraton hotel close to Munich airport. So prominent and successful in her field of lower abdominal operations has Muschaweck become that her clinic is now known as "Hernienzentrum".

Shearer, at that time, needed a hernia operation and startled himself and the club by returning to action in 10 days. That is a scenario that has obvious appeal to Owen, Newcastle and England.

Owen apparently wanted to play on as long as possible before surgery but is now thought to be increasingly realistic about the need for an operation. Newcastle's heartening recent experience of Dr Muschaweck, and her reputation, make Munich the likely destination.

It is not thought Owen was in Munich yesterday, but he was believed to be visiting a specialist last night to ascertain the full extent of the troublesome groin that forced his early departure from Newcastle's game against West Ham on Sunday, and there was no comment from the player or Newcastle.

If Munich proves to be problematic, then there are other prestigious centres around the globe and the Newcastle manager, Sam Allardyce, said on Sunday that Newcastle would seek the best care on the planet for their record signing.

With his latest international partner, Emile Heskey, also freshly injured, the England manager, Steve McClaren, will be fretting. England would be able to cope without Owen against Estonia but the journey to Moscow would be anxious without him.

Someone who may benefit from injuries to Heskey and Owen is Dean Ashton, who was West Ham's goalscorer at St James' Park. Ashton is only five games into a return from a year-long absence caused by a broken ankle in an England training session but the 23-year-old said after Sunday's game that he felt ready to win his first cap if called upon.

"I feel as though I am improving day by day," Ashton said of his fitness. "Even in training I feel as though I am gradually getting better. It was a long, long time to be out so it does take a long time to get all that back but I feel as though I am getting very close. I wouldn't be playing if I wasn't ready for an England call-up.

"I have been ready for a long time. It would be lovely to finally realise that dream of winning my first England cap, but I just have to be patient. I thought Emile Heskey was outstanding against Israel and Russia. It was great for him to be recalled and he responded with two excellent performances. Hopefully, that shows that there is room for a big guy up front."