The contents of Michael Owen’s sale brochure must have been more potent than we could ever have imagined, if the rumours doing the rounds are correct. In a move that has dropped jaws to the ground across Europe, the club most interested in signing him are… Manchester United. According to a report in “The Guardian” tonight, Owen only has to get through a medical – which in itself means that there is nothing guaranteed about this move yet – and, if the press are willing to be believed, Ickle Mike could be on his way to Old Trafford.
Of course, there is a chance that this is all an elaborate hoax. At this very moment, Alex Ferguson and David Gill could be sitting on the floor in an office surrounded by empty beer cans and whisky bottles, laughing themselves stupid that so many people seem to be falling for it. Just imagine what colour Alex Ferguson’s face might be at this very moment. They may have spent the first couple of days this week plotting it, and drawing up a list with names such as Joey Barton, Jason Lee and Ade Akinbiyi on it before settling upon Michael as the ultimate satirical signing.
The concept of Michael Owen’s medical to join Manchester United works on so many different levels that it could have been written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Tomorrow morning, a surgeon could find himself reaching into Michael’s leg, pulling something out on the end of a pair of forceps, holding it up to the light and asking, very slowly and deliberately, “Is this… a Twiglet? I never even knew you could hold someone’s knee ligaments together with one of these”. Should he pass it, though, he’ll be playing Champions League football next season. Presuming he’s fit, that is.
There is, in a way, a degree of sense behind Ferguson’s pursuit of him. He tried to sign Owen as a youth player and is reported to have made a couple of attempts to take him to Old Trafford before. He breaks United’s recently introduced “no players over 26” rule, but only because he is – at least in terms of transfer fees – free. They might hold on to him for a few months, give him a handful of run-outs and then sell him on for what they can get for him. That would be the ultimate expression of the free market, wouldn’t it? Patch him up, give him the “good enough for Alex Ferguson” kudos and flog him on.
Regardless of the signing of Owen, this summer is rapidly going down the tubes. They’ve missed out on Karim Benzema and will almost certainly miss out on Franck Ribery. They signed Antonio Valencia from Wigan Athletic and he seems like a decent enough player, but it seems that they are unlikely to start next season with a squad as strong as he one that finished last season. This could be down to the crippling cost of their loan interest repayments. The sale of Ronaldo will cover that for a couple of years, but what would be a fortune to almost every other club in Europe isn’t anything like as much to Manchester United.
All of this makes the Premier League a little more interesting than it has been for several years. Manchester United aren’t just hoovering up the best players in the world, and have shed a couple. Chelsea have yet another new manager who is still having English lessons. Liverpool, who primarily failed to win the Premier League last season because they failed to kill off teams too often and consequently drew too many matches, have signed a right-back and missed out on Gareth Barry, the player that they really wanted. The faintly musty smell of decline continues to hang over Arsenal. Nothing is guaranteed, but things might just be a tiny bit more even next season.