Owen at a crossroads

Goalscorers, we are often told, are invaluable. That statement is about to be tested.

Newcastle United's Michael Owen will wait until the end of the season to decide on his future.
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Goalscorers, we are often told, are invaluable. That statement is about to be tested. On Jan 1, Michael Owen will be able to discuss a Bosman transfer with whomever he wishes. Newcastle have belatedly offered a new contract, Owen has declared his desire to wait until the end of the season in order to make a "crucial" decision and Joe Kinnear has veered from pessimism to optimism.

With suggestions of interest from Tottenham, Everton and Manchester City, Owen is in demand. For him, however, the devil is in the details. Newcastle's offer entails a 25 per cent pay cut, but it is still more lucrative than the remuneration he could command elsewhere. Kinnear deemed Newcastle's "an excellent contract, considering what is happening around all football clubs." Multi-millionaires rarely attract sympathy in such circumstances, but the credit crunch is affecting Owen.

It is, in part, a consequence of Newcastle's exorbitant expenditure during his four-season spell on Tyneside. With a £17million (Dh92.5m) transfer fee and a wage in the region of £110,000 a week his eventual cost will amount to £40m. They may recoup nothing, and, as he has only mustered 46 league starts in three-and-a-half years, it is hard to argue that Owen has provided value for money. There was a time when descriptions such as "national hero" went unchallenged. Now he can polarise opinion. This is a player who averages better than a goal every other start for each of his three clubs, but one who is infrequently fit. He has just turned 29, but his career peaked between the ages of 18 and 22. He is by far the leading goalscorer among the current generation of English strikers, but he is ignored by Fabio Capello. He is lauded, particularly by former players turned pundits, as one of the Premier League's finest players, but he has been ignored by the four dominant clubs.

Indeed, Rafael Benitez was quick to distance himself from speculation that Owen would return to Liverpool. In an era of lone strikers, often supported by attacking midfielders, Owen, at his happiest operating in tandem with a muscular target man, can appear an anachronism. Depreciating speed has increased a reliance on others. His predatory remain instincts intact, but his acceleration is no longer breathtaking.

A further issue is whether a player accustomed to having teams built around him, can adapt to a squad player's role. The likelier scenario is that Owen stays at Newcastle. Their contract may represent the most generous available, but performance-related pay is less beneficial for those who spend much of the campaign on the sidelines. But the law of diminishing returns means fewer games results in a reduced income.