Michael Owen could not be blamed if he had begun to think his chances of forcing his way into Fabio Capello's World Cup plans were increasingly unrealistic but if game time is what he needs to get a plane ticket to South Africa then Sir Alex Ferguson seems prepared to at least drive him to the airport.
Owen has been an unused substitute in Manchester United's last three Premier League matches and has not started a league game since the 3-0 defeat to Fulham on 19 December. Ferguson has not tried to disguise his predicament in trying to fit Owen into a team alongside Wayne Rooney and has previously stated that Rooney's pre-eminence means Owen will have to be satisfied with cameo appearances, which negatively affect his international ambitions.
The United manager's reticence in playing Owen with Rooney appeared to be reiterated last week when he called for Mame Diouf to come off the bench against Birmingham City rather than Owen.
However, at his weekly press briefing at Carrington yesterday, Ferguson offered a slender hope to Owen and feels a return to the United starting XI is a possibility. "I haven't used him [Owen] in the last two or three games," Ferguson said. "He needs games and I think we are going to try to solve that problem because his training form has been good. There will be times when we will change the pattern of the team.
"Wayne can't play every game anyway. If you want to retain his freshness for the important games that are ahead we will have to make changes sometimes. [Diouf] has just arrived at the club and has done very well in training. It was just an opportunity, towards the end of the game [against Birmingham] to see how he could fit in, temperament-wise."
Ferguson would not discuss the £500m bond issue that United announced this week in an effort to restructure their debt as a club official said that any publicity on the matter would break compliance rules.
As a result he preferred to talk about the imminent return of Edwin van der Sar and after discussing the prowess of the 39-year-old, there is little doubt that current goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak would have much preferred his manager to number-crunch instead. Van der Sar is back from a period of compassionate leave following the brain haemorrhage suffered by his wife, Annemarie van Kesteren, before Christmas and is likely to replace Kuszczak soon.
That could be as early as today against Burnley but even if he does miss that game, Kuszczak's run in the first team is nearing an end although Ferguson wants him to be positive. "I know that for a young lad like Tomasz Kuszczak it will be disappointing," Ferguson added. "He has been doing well but bringing Edwin van der Sar back will only help the boy because he can only gain from watching him."