Owen just glad to be on first plane out of Toon

Striker shoots broadside at muddled former club.
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The Independent Football

It was probably the helicopter which first did for Michael Owen. There were other things Tyneside held against him.

The fact that he spent the bulk of his first two seasons injured – once, at Tottenham, breaking his foot trying to score for Newcastle; the other, less forgivably in eyes that saw only black and white, wrecking his knee for England in Cologne. There was the £15 million transfer fee paid to Real Madrid and the wages estimated at £110,000 a week.

And there was the fact that when a club brought to its knees by the folly and indecision of its owners was imploding, Michael Owen seemed powerless to prevent it. In the final dozen games which sealed the biggest relegation since Manchester United's fall from grace in 1974, he did not score at all.

But it was the regular helicopter flights from Tyneside to his home in the Welsh borders to see his children that first sowed suspicion.

"You learn to understand those kind of comments," he said before making what, a month ago, would have seemed an astonishing debut for Manchester United among the gentle adulation of their fans in Malaysia. "But, if you do step back, you think it is strange and unfair.

"But I know that if you don't score, play well or win, you are wrong to have a helicopter and fly home each week to see your kids. You are wrong to have a business outside of football. You are wrong to plan for the future. If I was scoring goals, I would have been a great lad, popping home to be a family man on a Tuesday after training to see your three kids. I would be portrayed as thoughtful.

"I hold my hands up and say I could have done more and scored more goals but the team was lacking in confidence. It was not playing well, there was a manager every two minutes and unrest at board level. I don't have to go into what was wrong at Newcastle. You can't name many players who have played well on a consistent basis over the years.

"If you are scoring goals, then everything is right and innocent little things like going home to see your family would not be misrepresented. It's all to do with not scoring, nobody is interested in listening to you when you are being relegated." Nobody was much interested in listening to Owen when he came back having torn his cruciate ligaments at the World Cup in Germany, a tournament he admits now he should never have gone to.

The Football Association, after much badgering from the then Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd, agreed to pay his wages. The club endured a season of unfettered mediocrity, which in the light of what we know now appears almost acceptable. The French have a saying that "the absent are always wrong" and in 2006-07 Owen was, through no fault of his own, conspicuously absent.

"Because I got injured playing for England, Newcastle, deep down, had the thought that: 'He has missed a year and he wasn't even playing for us.' That hindered me. If I had done my knee playing for Newcastle, there may have been more support.

"I was in no state to go [to the World Cup] last time because I had just come out of having a plaster cast on my foot." Another, belated condemnation of the way Sven Goran Eriksson prepared for a World Cup that England might have won.

You might have thought that Eriksson's successor Fabio Capello, like Sir Alex Ferguson, would have backed proven class. Owen, however, is confident – a quality he has never lost – that he will be in South Africa taking part in a fourth World Cup, especially because of the men that now surround him at Old Trafford.

"I'm not going to say I was dragged down by Newcastle but there are footballers who play better in better teams. I just know it will be fantastic for me – I feel like I did eight years ago," he said. "There are so many players on my wavelength – world-class players. I can see Wayne Rooney or Paul Scholes, as soon as they get the ball, looking for one of my runs.

"I might add something the team haven't got at the moment. Nobody is going to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, even though I wear his shirt, but if someone like Wayne could improve his game five per cent, that would help and I can add a little bit."

He certainly made an immediate impression on his new team-mates by scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory over a Malaysian XI here yesterday, after coming on as a substitute.

Ferguson was enthusiastic about his new signing afterwards. "He's different from our other players, he's always searching for space, he's always in and around the box," he said. "He reacted well for his goal."

And at last Owen can feel his own enthusiasm coming back. "When you sign, there are that many things you think about. You think of the players that are alongside you, you think about playing at Old Trafford and the men who are going to create chances for you and then you wake up the next morning and think: 'I could win the League or the Champions' League.' It just goes on and on and you become a very excited young man. And yes, I am still young."

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