Owen returns to international stage

With three World Cups behind him and 36 international goals to his name, Michael Owen may have felt that his days of proving himself in an England shirt were nothing but a distant memory.

Yet when England’s B team lines up against Albania at Burnley’s Turf Moor on Friday, the Newcastle United forward will be aiming to show once and for all that he is fit, ready to reclaim his billing as one of the world’s deadliest strikers and finally ready to emerge from an 18-month injury nightmare.

A broken metatarsal suffered against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Eve 2005 sidelined the former Liverpool and Real Madrid star for almost five months and cast a huge question mark over his chances of making Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England squad for the World Cup.

But having overcome that major setback to win a place on the plane to Germany, Owen’s career lay in ruins again by the end of the group stage as a result of the cruciate ligament injury suffered in the 2-2 draw with Sweden in Cologne.

It was a serious injury, one that had many fearing for Owen’s long-term future in the game and the 26-year-old spent over nine months on the sidelines before making his Newcastle comeback in the Premiership clash against Reading on April 30.

With England struggling to make headway in their Euro 2008 qualifying group, though, head coach Steve McClaren admits that Owen’s return to fitness is a major boost—despite insisting that the striker will need time to readjust to the international game.

McClaren said: “I think the likes of Michael Owen will be like a new signing because he has proved over the years that he scores vital goals.

“He scores goals out of nothing, he scores goals when the team is probably not playing well and every successful team needs a goal scorer like that.

“I don’t think anybody expects a lot from him, though. It’s just great to have him back, involved and playing.

“But let’s give him time and let’s be patient because the majority of the time it does take a while to get your timing back, to get the runs back. Looking at Michael, though, he looks very fit and very sharp.

“His return from injury is obviously a massive boost, though.
It’s almost a year since he picked up the injury in Germany and any side at international level would miss a player with Michael’s goal-scoring pedigree.”

McClaren is set to use the friendly clash against Albania’s senior team as an opportunity to test out up-and-coming players that have impressed in the Premiership this season such as Blackburn’s David Bentley, Sheffield United’s Phil Jagielka and Everton defender Joleon Lescott.

Preston North End striker David Nugent is also in the squad after netting on his senior debut against Andorra in March and McClaren admits that the game gives the fringe players a chance to force their way into his plans for the June 1 friendly against Brazil and the Euro 2008 clash against Estonia in Tallinn on June 6.

He said: “The B game will provide a good opportunity for a lot of players. It’s the first time I’ve called up David Bentley, Joleon Lescott, Nicky Shorey and Phil Jagielka, and they have earned the call. They have all played very well for their clubs this season.”—Sapa-AFP

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