When Michael Owen was pulled out of the hat by Sir Alex Ferguson this time last year, the general consensus was that the former England striker was being given a final chance to resurrect his injury riddled career. That’s not an opinion which sits well with him however “The amount of injuries I have had is exaggerated” he insists “it can be annoying but you learn to live with it.”
As if to prove him wrong, that injury curse struck again during the Carling Cup Final in March when a hamstring injury ruled him out for the rest of the season. Owen dismisses that setback as nothing more than an unfortunate accident which could have happened to anyone. As he explained to the Daily Mirror in an exclusive interview “I was fit for 43 games, the pity is that I missed the ones at the end when we were playing for things.”
Whether Owen is as injury prone as he is portrayed, the fact remains that at his age the finishing line of his playing career is on the horizon. Not that he has any plans of hanging up his boots or a desire to go anywhere else “I’d love this to be my last club. You look at Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville and you like to think you have five more years in the game. I’m 30 and I don’t want to wish my career away” he says.
“In an ideal world I’d like to play out my years here. I had great moments last season, a hat trick in the Champions League and a goal in the Carling Cup Final but the derby goal was fantastic. It was one of the biggest, most pure adrenaline rushes of my career. It’s alongside that Germany hat trick, scoring twice in the FA Cup Final, and that goal in St Etienne.
One area of the game that Owen had never even considered until a couple of years ago is going into football management but now admits that it’s something that he cannot rule out. “If you’d asked me about becoming a manager two years ago I’d have said no or given myself a 20 per cent chance at best. Now there’s about an 80 per cent chance of me trying to give it a go, you progress naturally in football” he explained. “At 18, 19, you may say to yourself ‘he’s a good manager’ or ‘that’s a good session’ but generally, you do your job, play your game and don’t think too much of it. As you get older you analyse things a bit more.”
“I decided to take my coaching badges at Newcastle when I was 27, 28, injured and sitting in the stand watching games.” he remembers “that’s when you start forming an opinion on what players do, which formations work. Because you are not thinking about how you are going to prepare for a game, you start dissecting the manager’s team talks. You see what is relevant, you’re looking at what everybody does. You see what creates a better environment, what helps tactically. You see how a manager’s strategies are implemented. You look at football in a different way.”
Owen has no hesitation in confessing that he has been converted into a disciple of Ferguson “I am with the master” he acknowledged “what he has won, what he has done over 20 years, he has to be the best. He talks to us as men. Others could say the same but because it comes from him it means so much more. Everyone is intrigued as to what he’s like, they want to know what makes him successful, what makes him tick, what makes him the best.”
“The thing that stands out for me is his winning mentality” he insists “that transfers to his team and his staff. Everything is geared to winning. If you don’t win it’s a darker place to be the next day. Sometimes, if something has been said outside the group or if the chips are down, Sir Alex delivers the sort of motivational team talk that makes you really want to get out there. Other times he is more tactical, he varies things a lot but everyone knows who is boss.”
One crucial lesson that Owen has learnt from Sir Alex is that a good manager has to surround himself with people who can be trusted to do what he requires “As much as he has his finger on the pulse of every aspect of this club, he is fantastic at delegation, trusting his staff and players. No matter who you are, in whatever business, you’re only as good as the people who work for you. He gives those around him confidence. To have the responsibility of managing Manchester United is colossal” he says “you have to dedicate your life to it and he has certainly done that. He has his joys outside the game, horse racing and his family, but you can’t imagine him not getting up in the morning and coming to work.”
That’s as good a summation of what makes Ferguson tick as any, leaving Owen wondering if following him into club management may not be something for him to seriously consider “I wouldn’t rule out anything” he says “when Chester were in the mire I thought ‘I’d love to help save them, get them up a few divisions’. Serving my apprenticeship lower down wouldn’t scare me. I’d want something to take forward, to snowball. Look at clubs like Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Newcastle” he points out “big fan bases, great support. Whoever manages them has a real chance of getting those places rocking!” And who’s to say that Michael Owen will not one day be that manager?
Will football club management be the next natural step for Michael Owen?