Why Michael Owen finds himself obsolete in modern football and struggling for admirers

Neil Trainis A GLANCE at the suitors casting admiring looks in the direction of Michael Owen this summer substantiates the view that the aura surrounding the one-time golden boy of English football has long since evaporated. The list, if it can be called that, of club

Neil Trainis

A GLANCE at the suitors casting admiring looks in the direction of Michael Owen this summer substantiates the view that the aura surrounding the one-time golden boy of English football has long since evaporated.

The list, if it can be called that, of clubs interested in securing the services of a player whose name was synonymous with goal scoring during his teens and early 20s, in the same vein as Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler, is not extensive or glamorous.

Aston Villa were, earlier this month, reported to be keen to talk to the 29-year-old and his advisers, whose 34-page brochure on their client saw them stretch the boundaries of their roles to comical proportions, smacking of desperation.

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The extension of their function, from merely advising their player in contractual situations to becoming his public relations gurus, was born out of an anxiety that there would, after all, be a lack of interest in their client.

The subsequent days and weeks have served to vindicate that concern. Villa, whose stock has risen markedly under manager Martin O'Neill and owner Randy Lerner, have aspirations of Champions League football and challenging the Big Four.

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As do Everton, who have been tentatively linked with the player but who have not been making too many enthusiastic noises about securing him on a contract at Goodison Park. And that's the problem; there does not seem to be an abundance of interest from Premier League clubs in a man once cherished as England's number one goal poacher.

Such a notion would have been unthinkable five years ago, before Owen took the decision to move to Real Madrid, in search of regular Champions League football, and before a switch to Newcastle United barely a year later.

If Owen had been available on a free transfer at that time, just as he is now, his mobile phone would have been reverberating with offer after offer from a variety of clubs around Europe, all attracted by the prospect of footing his high wages but not burdened by an exorbitant transfer fee.

Now, though, there is caution where there should be intense anticipation. Amid the hesitancy there has emerged concrete attraction from the likes of Hull City and Stoke City, who see Owen as the man to supply the goals to stabilise their Premier League positions.

"We're interested in Michael Owen on the right terms. He's a fantastic footballer. He's had a few injury problems, but we would have to be interested in him," Hull City chairman, Paul Duffen, conceded. His counterpart at Stoke City, Peter Coates, was just as enthusiastic.

"It's a phone call Tony (Pulis, the Stoke manager) will make in due course. I've no doubt he's given it some thought. Owen is a very fine player and he'll be looking to see what's available," he pondered.

Five years ago, Owen on a free transfer would have brought in offers from Italy, Spain and clubs of greater prestige than Hull and Stoke in English football's top flight, and perhaps a big club may still come in for him between now and the start of the season.

Ars�ne Wenger, no doubt still ruminating over the possibility of Emmanuel Adebayor's departure, may have contemplated Owen in an Arsenal shirt, finishing off all those chances his side create. After all, their propensity to try and walk the ball in the net has been their downfall too often in recent campaigns.

Given Owen's struggles with his fitness and the absence of a once blistering pace, a move to Arsenal would suit him better than one to Hull or Stoke, given the number of openings in front of goal carved out by Wenger's swaggering side.

At Hull or Stoke he would be playing alongside players of lesser ability and the ball would not arrive at his feet inside the six-yard box as readily as it would at Arsenal. And that is another part of the problem for Owen; he can no longer power past defenders like he used to and create openings for himself. He is as effective as those around him.

The acceleration which used to leave defenders on the seat of their pants is a thing of the past and footage of that sublime solo goal against Argentina in Saint-:tienne 11 years ago is becoming grainier with each passing year. It may as well be one hundred years ago.

Modern football demands more than mere goal scoring from centre forwards. It states power, athleticism and pace as prerequisites, possessed by Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Cristiano Ronaldo, who flourished as a striker in his latter days at Manchester United.

Those qualities have severely dwindled in Owen. Clubs do not want to take a punt on him because they harbour reservations over his ability to offer something else to the team other than notching goals. They fear he may be a passenger in high octane matches.

It appears that time has finally caught up with the last true genuine goal scoring predator of his kind.

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