Sir Alex Ferguson has told Michael Owen not to give up on his 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ dream. The striker hoping to retain his starting spot for Manchester United's Premier League encounter with Aston Villa tomorrow, following his memorable hat-trick for the Red Devils in Tuesday's UEFA Champions League win over Wolfsburg.
Although it has shot the 29-year-old back to prominence, the general view is that his efforts have come too late to get him on the plane to the world finals next summer. Fabio Capello has overlooked Owen completely since the friendly defeat in France, which will be two years ago by the time England are next in action - probably against Egypt - on 3 March.
In that time, Jermain Defoe has established himself as the back-up to Wayne Rooney, who is certain to be in Capello's 23-man squad, while Owen hardly fits the bill of a bulldozing attacker, such as Emile Heskey or Carlton Cole. Nevertheless, Ferguson thinks his No7 could still force his way in.
"Fabio has said himself, performance is the only thing that matters," said Ferguson. "If Michael is going to get to the World Cup it will be through his performance and I think Wednesday helps him.
"There is a view that he will not have played enough games. But he will play a sufficient number to be considered. That is the best chance he has got. That is all he can hope for."
While England's FIFA World Cup fate is clearly not Ferguson's concern, he does understand that if Owen scores enough goals to reach his fourth trip to the greatest tournament on the planet, United will have been the beneficiaries. The former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle United player has scored so often down the years that his first hat-trick for the Red Devils will not have provided a particular confidence boost.
However, with his third goal in particular, when Owen collected Gabriel Obertan's short pass and raced towards the Wolfsburg goal from halfway before expertly chipping home, Ferguson saw the killer instinct that was evident so early in his career.
"It was vintage Michael Owen," said the Scot. "He had the cleverness to cut across the defender, forcing him to think about whether to bring him down, which would have meant a penalty and a red card.
"The guy could not afford to tackle him because at that point, Wolfsburg were still in the Champions League. The goalkeeper came out but Michael waited and chipped him when he went down. It was brilliant."