Friday, 3 July 2009

Owen and Benzema - some objectivity

The rage of United fans is almost palpable this morning. One day after being gazumped on Benzema by Real Madrid, we're almost certain to sign former Liverpool star and Real Madrid and Newcastle flop Michael "Sick Note" Owen.

Edit: Owen has completed his signing.

I am pleased about both of these events.

Benzema is no great loss at that price

Benzema first. He clearly has talent in abundance and has set the French league on fire. He scored a great goal against us. Pretty much everyone who's watched him thinks he has the potential to be a great player. At a stretch, in these bizarre counter-recession times, that makes him worth £25m and no more, but only at a stretch. £35m? £40m? Forget it.

Other players to have emerged as the "next great superstriker" from the French leagues include Didier Drogba and Djibril Cisse. The best that can be said of Cisse is that he gave us an irrefutable line of attack against Liverpool fans, whilst Drogba looked like a donkey for one season, a legend for the next and a moody clown ever since.

On top of that, Benzema's desire to play for Real is well known. What if he came to us, scored a hatful next season and spent the whole of next summer agitating for a £60m move to Real. Not that inconceivable a situation - and I would much prefer signing a player who views United as the peak and who would turn down more money from elsewhere to come to us (as Berbatov did).

I was never convinced we needed him or that he wanted us, so I'm really not that fussed. What does bother me, though, is the sentiment being bandied around that we should have matched Real's bid just because we have the money to do so.We have never operated like that, and rightly so, and anyone who thinks we should write a blank cheque for any player we fancy just because we can sounds a bit too much like a Chelski fan to me.

Finally, where would Benzema have played? At the top of a trio with Berba and Rooney behind him? That would be far too narrow, but I don't see any other alternative that doesn't involves Rooney playing out wide.


Scott has made his position pretty clear on Owen's signing already this morning, but I am in favour of the signing:

  • Yes, he's injury-prone, but whenever he is fit he scores goals at a good rate.
Injury-prone is the major footballing (as opposed to personal) reason why Owen is not a good signing. He has kept up with Louis Saha's rate of missing huge chunks of every season since a big money move. However, like Saha, when he is fit he is dangerous and scores a lot of goals. In 65 starts for Newcastle he scored 30 goals [edited - thanks!] , and also showed an interesting versatility which permitted him to create goals for others as well.
  • We are getting him for free and on a very modest wage
If we were paying £10m and £100k a week for Owen, I'd be against the signing - way too much to lose, and we could use the money better elsewhere. But for free and on £50k a week, there's very little downside for us. The worst case is that he's with us a year, barely starts any games and barely contributes - but the potential upside is a proven big-game goalscorer who still has the talents to trouble any defence on his day.
  • We only need him to start say 10-15 games, with more sub appearances, and even when he starts he'll probably only need to play 60 minutes
Other clubs (such as Blackburn) have rejected a possible move because he can't be guaranteed to play 30 games a season. We don't need him to do that - we need him to be a reserve striker, whose principal is to come on for 15 minutes and nick a goal, with the occasional start mixed in. Think of his role as the new Solskjaer or Sheringham - the type of player who, as I argued before, we needed to sign this summer alongside any bigger-money players. If you want proof of his ability to be an effective substitute, you have only to look at his performances for Real during their galacticos era.

  • He is desperate for a World Cup place, and therefore has a real incentive to rediscover his old form and a real point to prove
It was pretty obvious that he didn't care for a lot of the time that he was at Newcastle. But Capello's repeated snubbing of him has really brought out some fire again, and he looks like he is desperate to play for and succeed at a big club. We could really reap the benefit of that if he stays fit - he still has the potential to be a 20+ goals per season player.
  • Some of the negative attitudes surrounding him (such as the money-grabbing nature of his move to Newcastle and his loss of interest in football) are overplayed
One of the main criticisms levelled against Owen is that he took a big money move to Newcastle rather than wait for a bigger club. Firstly, when Owen went to Newcastle, they weren't the complete shower that they are now. Second, and more importantly, he hated Madrid (having never settled in either footballing or cultual and person terms), and would have taken any move back to England. However, since he came with a £15m price tag and £100k wages, none of the big clubs were interested - leaving a gap for Newcastle.

I have no doubt that Owen saw Newcastle as a stepping stone back to a top level English club. But his injuries have stopped him from making that next move, leaving him stuck at a club that he didn't love and who didn't love him. The loss of interest was understandable, and I'm not sure it was really his fault, particularly given the laughable chaos which was playing out around him.

Finally, yes, he played for Liverpool and talked their talk while he was there. Nothing can change that - but (call me disloyal if you want) that was many moons ago and I'm prepared to give him a chance.

Fergie has the gambler's instinct, and he's seen the potential upside. Let's join him in hoping the potential becomes reality.


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

As much as I liked Ronaldo...

...and I was probably one of his biggest defenders, isn't it great not to have to think about off-field antics like this anymore?

Instead of trying to reconcile it with the player who runs out every week wearing the red, now he's just a typical Real galactico, fighting with paparazzi.

I knew there was a silver lining somewhere (that, and the money).