Sam Wallace: Owen too slow to escape cull of sacred cows

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The Independent Football

Now that Fabio Capello has acquired a taste for bucking public opinion, how about leaving out another famous name? Michael Owen is another England player closing in on an international landmark but, like David Beckham, that does not entitle him to a place in the squad.

When Capello looks at his squad tonight and has to draw a line through seven names, you would expect that one of his five strikers will have to go – and it should be the man who has scored just one goal in his last 12 club games.

Owen's reputation has sustained him for long enough. He simply no longer has the attributes that earned him the majority of his 40 England goals. It feels like the cruellest and most obvious thing to say about him – like telling Brigitte Bardot that her looks have gone (she is 73) – but Owen's pace has deserted him. Against Arsenal on Tuesday night he came second in a sprint with Philippe Senderos. And although Owen says that his game has adapted – that he has never lost the edge for scoring goals – it is getting harder to agree. Now, Owen plays more with his back to goal – and there is nothing more pointless in international football than a 5ft 8in targetman with no pace.

Of course, even the granite-hearted Capello is going to find his fingers wobbling as the red pen hovers over Owen's name. European footballer of the year. Nine away from Sir Bobby Charlton's 49-goal record for England. Hero of St Etienne (almost 10 years ago). Much less fuss to cross off Peter Crouch, or Emile Heskey.

And, beyond Wayne Rooney, Capello is hardly blessed with in-form, confident strikers. Gabriel Agbonlahor has more Premier League goals (seven) this season than Heskey, Owen and Crouch combined, but even he has not scored since December. Rooney has 10 goals for United in all competitions this season and averages one Premier League goal for every 213 minutes he spends on the pitch. Heskey has a single goal in all club competitions all season and averages one every 955 minutes in the Premier League. Owen (four goals) scores every 463 minutes in the league; Crouch (seven goals) scores every 473 minutes. By way of comparison Cristiano Ronaldo averages a goal every 89 minutes.

So what's a manager to do? Presumably Capello has not picked Agbonlahor for the first time just to leave him out. And Rooney is a definite, even if his form for England suggests he is not quite a goalscoring saviour. Since Euro 2004, Rooney has had 23 caps, 22 of them starts and scored five. Since his debut in May 2005, Crouch has had 24 caps, 14 of them starts and scored 14. That tells its own story.

The most persuasive argument for dropping Owen comes when you ask: who do you pair him with? Rooney and Heskey works; so does Crouch and Rooney. Agbonlahor is an attractive prospect working off a bigger man like Crouch, or Heskey – as he does for Villa with John Carew. But no one compliments a small striker like Owen, one who insists on coming short for the ball like a latter-day Alan Shearer.

Owen has been a great international; that does not mean he has to be kept playing until he reaches 50 goals. He is 28, which can make you believe he still has a few years left. But he has already had 10 years at the top; he was just 18 when he scored against Argentina at the World Cup in 1998.

Sadly, when the start comes early it is often the way that the end must too.

Seven for Capello to ditch

* NICKY SHOREY: Easily the weakest of the three specialist left-backs.

* Wes Brown: Glen Johnson deserves the chance to resurrect his England career.

* Joleon Lescott: Close call. He doesn't qualify at left-back ahead of Ashley Cole, or Bridge but it's a close thing with Woodgate for the fourth centre-back spot.

* Matthew Upson: So many centre-backs. He will be hoping King gets another knock.

* Stewart Downing: Joe Cole and Young ahead of him on the left.

* Michael Carrick: Just edged out of it by the in-form Jenas for the last central-midfield spot.

* Michael Owen: If it's on who is in form, then he's out.

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