The England and Newcastle striker Michael Owen is a week ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from a fractured foot, according to Newcastle's caretaker manager Glenn Roeder.
Owen broke a metatarsal against Tottenham on New Year's Eve but he has now been cleared to step up his training regime.
"Michael saw his specialist on Monday and had a good look at his latest X-rays," Roeder said yesterday. "He is happy at what he has seen and heard and now it's full steam ahead for him. Things are going well for Michael and he is perhaps a week ahead of where we always thought he would be after his injury."
Owen has optimistically pencilled in the FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea on 22 March but a return in April for the last month of the season may be more realistic. Roeder, who has been in temporary charge since Graeme Souness was sacked a month ago, has been impressed by Owen's attitude.
"When players are injured they normally let their heads go down, but whenever I have seen Michael he has had a smile on his face," Roeder said. "He really is working his socks off and the staff who are with him find that he is a pleasure to work with because he is so professional. It goes without saying we cannot wait to get him back into our team."
Owen believes there are parallels to be drawn between the current England team and the French side which triumphed at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
The Newcastle striker believes England have the ideal squad to challenge in Germany this summer. After reaching the quarter-finals in 2002, the England coach Sven Goran Eriksson has challenged his players to at least better that achievement.
Owen believes England will go to Germany with a squad packed with players either rising towards or already at their peak.
"I still think the teams we took to other competitions were good enough to win, but this is probably the best team with even better players and the good thing is the team we had in Japan has developed," Owen said. "We have a nucleus of players who have played with each other for so long and all the top teams that win things understand each other and have played with each other for a long time.
"Look at the France team that won the World Cup and European Championship. We have that great mixture of youth and experience and even the experienced ones are only 25 or 26."
When France lifted the World Cup in 1998, Zinedine Zidane was 26, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps 29, and Fabien Barthez 27.
Steven Gerrard will be 26, Frank Lampard 28, Owen himself 26, and Rio Ferdinand 27 by this summer's World Cup final. At opposite ends of the scale, both David Beckham and Gary Neville will be 31 and Wayne Rooney 20.
Rooney is the player many will look to as England attempt to land their second World Cup, and Owen predicts the Manchester United striker will rise to the occasion.
"There is no doubt there will be a game when we'll say, 'Thank God we had Wayne Rooney', because he made something out of nothing," Owen said. "And hopefully we'll say, 'Thank God we had Michael Owen'."
Owen could find himself playing alongside a new boy up front - and Darren Bent is developing into a top-class striker, according to England's assistant coach Tord Grip, who said, "He has been very sharp in every training session he has played with us, but particularly over the last couple of days. I hope that he can take that into the game now.
"I think his finishing has really improved this season," Grip added. He looks like he can score from nearly every chance he gets. That is the sign of a very good striker and we are always on the look-out for goalscorers. He is fast, strong and is good in the air. He has all the qualities that we look for in a striker."Reuse content