Owen ready to embrace attacking philosophy
Monday 21 January 2008
No goal, no chance and barely a sniff of the Bolton penalty box: in a different era, under a different manager, Michael Owen's Saturday night would have felt like just another 90 minutes of his contractual obligation fulfilled.
It would be another day towards his departure from Newcastle United.
But not now. Kevin Keegan's return may have fizzled out as a difficult evening unfolded for the understrength hosts, but Owen did not look inconsolable on the final whistle. The captain's armband would now appear to be his to lose and, with that swift decision, Keegan has neutralised whatever England acid there was between the two men.
Owen did not speak afterwards, which was strange, because he still needs to win this crowd around. His injuries have been serious and not his fault but in his 29th month at the club, this was his 28th league game. There has been no continuity to breed rapport.
But Owen's newspaper column yesterday revealed a depth of enthusiasm for the new regime that will surprise regulars at St James' Park. Owen may even be surprised himself. He and Keegan met after last Wednesday's FA Cup win over Stoke – when Owen scored Newcastle's first goal of 2008, his first since October – and while their conversation was described as "brief" it was also "vital". Owen had concerns as to how Keegan would read the England comments in the player's autobiography. He was no doubt relieved that Keegan dismissed them.
"Kevin sat next to me and said: 'You've played for some big clubs like Liverpool and Real Madrid and have experienced what the atmosphere can be like there. But, believe me, you haven't seen half of what this place can be like yet'."
Had he been sceptical, Owen could have been forgiven. This was the patter Alan Shearer had given him in August 2005 when Owen was hoping Liverpool would helicopter in to rescue him from Madrid. But Liverpool's reticence and Newcastle's money won even if, on that dramatic unveiling day, Owen looked unconvinced. "My head's spinning," he said.
On Wednesday it spun around to see his fourth Newcastle manager, but... "Kevin convinced me that there are exciting times ahead for Newcastle. I definitely want to be part of it. You tell me a striker who wouldn't want to play in a team with Kevin Keegan as manager.
"Managers can have different philosophies. For instance, Sam Allardyce might prefer to concentrate on his back four, keep a clean sheet and nick a 1-0 result. Kevin Keegan will also want to keep a clean sheet but he will want to put on an entertaining performance and score plenty of goals – and that means everything to me. He definitely believes in playing more football, with plenty of passing and movement. I will settle for that."
Prepared to concede that he had "no divine right" to be picked by Keegan at Euro 2000, there has been a mutual softening of stances. Owen sounded genuine when he spoke of Keegan's impact on Wednesday. The players did not know he was in the stadium until half-time.
"You could sense there was a change of mood around the club. There was an even bigger buzz in training on Friday morning. The session was no different to normal but you could sense there was an extra spring in everyone's step.
"Then I got home and watched Kevin's press conference. It was fantastic to see him at work. The whole room was spellbound. You could feel the enthusiasm. Anyone who is not uplifted by his arrival must have something seriously wrong with them."
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