Manchester United sign Michael Owen – the good, the bad and the insane

It’s official – Manchester United have signed the 29 year old, former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker and free agent Michael Owen on a two year contract.

The whole world is talking about it, and barring a dramatic setback on the doctor’s table (he’s too short on all accounts, gaffer), Michael Owen should sign for Manchester United on a free transfer in the next few days.

The purported move brings with it ridicule, surprise, anger and more ridicule disguised as laughter – surely United are not left to scrape the bottom of the barrel with an over-the-hill striker no one wants?

But who decides that Michael Owen is ‘finished’? The folks at Newcastle (who despite their best efforts couldn’t put together a midfield good enough to supply him with anything at all)? The folks at Liverpool (who sorely missed Owen until they signed Torres)? The folks at Real Madrid (where he had a better goals to minutes ratio than any other Madrid player)? The fans? The press? The same people who heaped unrealistic expectations on him to ‘save’ Newcastle, then rounded on him when he couldn’t?

On the other hand, this could be the bargain of the season if Owen goes on to score 15 goals and like Larsson, Solskjaer and Blanc before him, provides the team with the experience off the pitch that they need? For all of Manchester United’s awesome play over the last three years, you can’t help but notice that their most prolific striker has just left the building and Owen, for better or for worse, is still a better ‘finisher’ than Rooney and gives a different option to the team than Berbatov.

Reports suggest that Owen will be on a limited, basic salary plus a heavy bonuses for playing games and scoring goals. And as some people have already pointed out, his injury record at Newcastle has been more a case of mismanagement than the player being ‘injury-prone’ – and at United he will get the time and attention he needs to get back to full fitness. At least we know he’s mentally stronger than one Louis Saha.

The outstanding fan favourite for this summer was Karim Benzema, but that boy has had his mind set to go to Real Madrid since last summer. Huntelaar is another fan favourite, and there have been reports that United have made an offer for the player, but so far there has been little to suggest that United would move for him – indeed they had the time and reason to move for him last summer but didn’t do so.

So if Benzema isn’t available and Huntelaar isn’t in the picture, who else would you pick? Aguero? Unproven and outrageously expensive, and lacks the height and clinical finishing that United are looking for. In fact apart from Torres and Benzema you’d be hard-pressed to find a quality striker sharing the same attributes – pace, height, good finishing and excellent temperament on the pitch.

Ferguson has made a habit of avoiding buying ‘trophy’ players for the sake of it (that’s Madrid’s job – remember van der Vaart?) – he sticks to the plan and before the summer started he would have highlighted the players United needed and also the backup plan in case United didn’t get their men.

Like it or not, Michael Owen is part of the backup plan. It doesn’t work in the man’s favour that he’s been trashed by the press for the last year or so, but he’s younger than Larsson and Solskjaer were when they played at United as ‘support’ strikers and he’s bound to do as good a job, if not better (remember, those two were lauded for their influence on the younger players).

Here’s what it comes down to – there’s an expectation in the media that United will make a big signing to compensate for the departure of Ronaldo and Tevez. However, this team isn’t built on knee-jerk signings but bringing in players that genuinely improve the team and are able to grow as players during their time at United. We’re not always going to get our way with transfers (taxes, weather and Real Madrid will see to that) but we can still bring in quality players that can help us win more titles.

This summer seems to have shades of 06/07 – when United lost Ruud van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid and only signed Michael Carrick to shore up a weakened midfield. Carrick has since then grown into the sort of player Ferguson can build his whole midfield around. Owen isn’t a glamour signing, and he’s not going to be a starter either, but he does improve the squad, and however insane that sounds, a fit Owen is a better bet for scoring a goal than a fit Carlos Tevez.

Having said that, I hope Ferguson signs someone else as well.

Bonus #1: The Michael Owen brochure.
Bonus#2: Sir Alex: If I don’t end Michael Owen’s career for good, who will?

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