Ferguson has pulled off many tricks and surprises in the past, so much so that Manchester United fans have learnt to expect the unexpected. But when Cristiano Ronaldo left for Madrid in 2009, no-one could have foreseen that Ferguson would try and plug the gap by signing the injury plagued goal scorer, Michael Owen.
After leaving a relegated Newcastle United at the end of the 2008/09 season, he was expected to sign for a mid-table club, with the likes of Stoke and Hull City rumoured to be interested. Yet Old Trafford turned out to be his ultimate, and unlikely, destination.
The fans were split. Some declared that this was merely another example of “Glazernomics”, others argued that signing a proven goal scorer, (a former Balon D’Or winner no less) on a free was an inspired move. The rest couldn’t look beyond Owen’s links to Liverpool. In the end, much as expected, Owen’s United career spluttered along like a vintage Porsche. He showed occasional flashes of his former glory, but often offered little more than an extra presence on the pitch.
Owen’s career in Manchester started quite promisingly, with his first season undoubtedly his best. Of course, it was in his first season that Owen made his mark, and embedded his name in United folklore with THAT goal against City. The movement, calm composure and clinical finish were a throwback to Owen’s pomp, when he scored for fun for both Liverpool and England. Of course, whilst many couldn’t ignore his Scouse links, that goal went some way to burning his Merseyside bridges. Fergie was certainly convinced, after the game saying.
“There is no-one better at taking chances. His positional play, first touch and finish were absolutely superb. World class.”
That goal served as a jump-start of sorts for Owen’s season. Whilst featuring intermittently, Owen contributed to the cause, scoring 9 goals in all competitions with 11 starts and 19 appearances off the bench. Notably, he scored a hattrick in the Campions League to help guide the Red Devils past Wolfsburg in the group stage. Whilst 9 in 30 games doesn’t seem so prolific, if you look at his playing time you see he scored a goal every 112 minutes of playing time. For a 30 year old striker coming of the bench, that isn’t bad. Yet, there could have been a few more moments of glory had he not gotten injured against Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final. The injury ended his season, two and half months too early.
That game against Villa summed up his United career. Having scored the equalising goal, Owen was looking lively and playing well. Alas, lady luck was not on his side as, when running for a loose ball, he pulled up and had to leave the game after 41 minutes. Scans showed a pulled hamstring, and Owen was out for the season.
Owen never sufficiently recovered his career at OT, with injuries continuing to dog him. The next season, Owen played well in the Carling Cup, and FA Cup, scoring 3 goals, but he rarely threatened in the Premier League, scoring only 2 goals in 11 appearances.
The goals weren’t flowing for Owen and he was continually over looked by Ferguson. The writing was on the wall when, this season, he only appeared once in the Premier League, with injury again knocking at his (rather expensive) door. In the Premier Leagu, his only contribution was two measly shots in the draw away at Stoke. Despite boldly claiming that he had “one more decisive goal” in him, sadly, it never materialised. Owen’s final flourish never came and he failed to secure a new contract to keep him at the club.
So, what to make of Owen’s tenure at Old Trafford? Fergie’s gamble didn’t pay off royally, but that doesn’t mean it was an unmitigated disaster. The 32 year old still contributed throughout his days at United, if not though his goals, then through his presence on the training pitch and the effect he will have had on the young strikers coming through. Despite relinquishing his pace to injuries, Owen never lost his scoring touch or his clever movement. There are arguments to say that, if it weren’t for injuries, Owen could have been a success for United. Alas, we will never know thanks to his rotten luck and a penchant for the bench. Nevertheless, Owen will always be remembered fondly by the red half of Manchester. Thanks for the memories.