Once Michael Owen regains full fitness, Tony Pulis expects to him to be much more than an impact substitute for Stoke City.
The former England international became a free agent earlier this summer, when Manchester United decided against offering him a fourth year at Old Trafford. Owen immediately announced that he had no plans to drop down the divisions, but getting fixed up with another Premier League side had proven more difficult than anticipated.
To be fair to Stoke, they were perhaps the first club to throw their name into the hat. Having scored fewer goals than any other team in the top-flight last season, including those which were relegated, Pulis knew he needed more firepower this term. And whilst Owen may no longer be capable of producing the sort of form which made him a European Footballer of the Year back in 2001, he still has a nose for goal.
The 32-year-old has seen his first team chances stall in recent seasons due largely to a string of injuries, but he was available for more than the single game Sir Alex Ferguson selected him for last term. Ironically, that match came at the Britannia Stadium when he replaced Javier Hernandez after 11 minutes, and it was to be the last of his 31 league appearances for United. The highlight of his spell in the red half of Manchester was undoubtedly his stoppage time winning against City in his debut campaign, and he also gave a rare glimpse of his best when he grabbed a UEFA Champions League hat-trick in Wolfsburg.
It is this type of form which Pulis is hoping Owen will recapture. The Stoke boss has revealed that far from expecting his new number 10 to be little more than an impact substitute, he has brought him in to challenge for a regular place in the starting eleven. And if the striker can do that, then he is sure the goals will soon be flowing.
“He’s more than just an impact sub. We want Michael to get himself fit, in the team and playing regularly again,” said Pulis. “We’re delighted with the deal we’ve got and feel it’s well worth taking a chance with a player like Michael for all sorts of reasons. We believe, once he’s match-fit, that he’ll prove he can still score goals in the Premier League.”
Other teams credited with an interest in Owen included Everton, Sunderland, and Liverpool. A move to the latter would have been a sensational story. He made his name at Anfield having progressed through the youth system, and his 119 goals in 217 league appearances established him as one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe. But his relationship with the club soured when he moved to United in 2009, and despite Brendan Rodgers’ evident need for more firepower, the Reds boss decided against offering him a controversial return.