Rallying call from Owen
Michael Owen has called on all his new Manchester United team-mates to "step up to the plate" as they look to replace the man whose shirt he now wears. Owen enjoyed the perfect start to life as United's new number seven by scoring a late winner as the Red Devils opened their Far East tour with a 3-2 win over a Malaysia XI.
Given his reputation, Owen will be one of the main men asked to replace the 67 goals Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the two seasons prior to his world record £80m move to Real Madrid. Owen is confident he can deliver. And he is hoping to help the rest of Sir Alex Ferguson's players give that little bit extra as well.
"Hopefully I might add something the team haven't got at the moment," he said. "Nobody is going to replace Ronaldo, even though I wear his shirt, but if someone like Wayne [Rooney] could improve his game five per cent, that would help. I can add a little bit, there is Antonio Valencia. Everyone is going to have to step up to the plate a bit more to make up for him."
No-one, least of all Owen himself or manager Ferguson is going to get carried away by one 30 minute cameo. Nevertheless, there were encouraging signs that Owen's trademark runs will be spotted by the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs just as the former Liverpool striker felt on the day he jumped at the chance of joining United.
"There are so many players on my wavelength - world-class players," he said. "I would hope there is no-one similar to me in the way that I play. I can see Wayne Rooney or Paul Scholes as soon as they get the ball looking for one of my runs."
Ferguson spotted it too, although his words were of caution in the knowledge that it is against Birmingham on 16 August that Owen's contribution can start to be judged.
"It was a friendly game," he said. "I am sure Michael will be delighted he got off the mark, but I am looking ahead to the season. I know he will give us a good contribution of goals. That will be a more important time to appraise him."
However, Owen was able to empathise with fellow goalscorer Wayne Rooney about how good it feels to find the net again.
"It's always nice to get off the mark, not just when you join a new club but any time," he said. "I was sat chatting to Wayne in the dressing room afterwards and he feels the same way."
As Owen replaced Rooney after an hour at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, the pair have not been on the pitch at the same time yet. That situation might be rectified tomorrow when United tackle the same opposition, in the same stadium. Ferguson has pledged to make changes, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher both hoping to have recovered from minor niggles that kept them out yesterday.
United have confirmed Park Ji-sung will not be available, as he will not join his team-mates until they land in Seoul on Wednesday evening after being given an extended summer break due to his international commitments with South Korea. For Owen though, a first Manchester United start tomorrow will offer another opportunity to impress, having only been highlighted in the centre of Ferguson's radar when Karim Benzema rejected Old Trafford in favour of a move to Real Madrid.
"In previous years it has been the little things that have gone against me, like clubs not being able to agree a fee, but this time it has gone in my favour," reflected Owen. "You have bad and good luck in your career which people don't get to find out about it. I don't care whether I was first or 100th choice. I just want to do well for Manchester United."