Owen: Others more deserving of medal
Michael Owen will be making no apologies for collecting a Premier League title medal with pride should Manchester United complete their record 19th championship triumph.
United head to Arsenal tomorrow knowing victory will nudge them to the very brink of an historic achievement as Liverpool are finally "knocked off their perch", as Sir Alex Ferguson promised when he arrived at Old Trafford in 1986. For Owen, it would represent the first league medal of his illustrious career, and leave him with only the UEFA Champions League to complete an entire set.
As he still requires one more appearance to qualify automatically, and only one of his nine contributions came from a place in the starting line-up, the 31-year-old accepts there are others far more deserving of the honour.
However, he also knows there were times earlier in his career when he made more significant contributions to silverware successes, which is why there will be such a spring in his step if he gets the chance to collect the Premier League trophy.
"There are players who would be ten times more deserving of a Premier League medal in this team than me, so it is not as though I will be flashing it around," he said. "But there is no point being embarrassed about accepting something you have been part of.
"I didn't get two medals for scoring two goals in the FA Cup final in 2001. I have won plenty in my career but I have not won the two big ones. That would complete the set. There is still quite a way to go, so let's hope there is something to pick up at the end of the season."
Owen's future beyond the end of the season is open to debate as it appears highly unlikely he will be offered a contract extension at United following the emergence of Javier Hernandez. However, he still has a contribution to make given the history of United is littered with examples of substitutes scoring late goals, the most obvious being Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who came off the bench to win the Champions League in 1999.
Owen's own last-gasp strike against Manchester City last season is another, whilst even the former England man's solitary Premier League goal this season - at Bolton in October - helped salvage a valuable point when the Red Devils seemed destined to lose.
"Even if it is just one goal or one good performance, everyone is going to play their part," said Owen. "I was in the stand on Tuesday against Schalke. You are feeling sorry for yourself thinking I would like to be on the pitch or on the bench. Next to you is Wes Brown, who has dozens of England caps and John O'Shea, who has got even more for the Republic of Ireland. Darron Gibson is also an international.
"They are not even getting stripped. That tells you everything about the squad of players we have got. I suppose I am dreaming of coming off the bench and scoring the stoppage-time winner in the Champions League final. That is the motivation that drives me on. Every day I have to be ready and prepared to come in and do something."
The nearest Owen came to winning the league during his Liverpool days was 2002, the season after the Anfield outfit completed their cup treble. So, for all his vast experience, he is still learning about the unique pressures exerted by a title run-in.
It seems to have been too much for Arsenal, whose campaign of promise has crumbled completely in the past couple of months. And Owen accepts there is a mental toughness at United which makes the prospect of failure seem impossible.
"Every game is so big and just as you get over one massive period, another one comes up," said Owen. "The scary thing is that your season could virtually be over in one bad week. Just round the corner there can be a pitfall. But at this club, there is only positive thinking, and that comes right from the top."