Owen gets England backing from Eriksson

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Sven-Goran Eriksson backs Michael Owen’s £17 million move to Newcastle as giving England the edge ahead of the World Cup finals…

 Eriksson is relieved that Owen has resolved his future before the end of the transfer window and is now set to be playing regular football in the Premiership, rather than sitting on the bench at Real Madrid.

While Owen will not be involved in Europe, his sharpness due to regular games at club level could have a significant benefit to England.

"As long as Michael is happy, it’s good for him and for England. When he saw that Real were buying new strikers, he got worried," he declared.

"At the end of the season, he sees the World Cup, which he wants to take part in and should take part in. Knowing that he might play once every third month or so, that worried him a lot.

"If he’d never played, it would have created a huge problem for me as well. On one hand, you want to have Michael Owen in the team as you know he will score goals.

"On the other hand, if he is never playing football, it would be very difficult though. But now I don’t have to worry about that.

"I’m sure he’s very hungry. He was very good for England last season and if he can repeat that or be even more important, I should be very happy."

England will be counting on Owen, with 32 goals from 71 caps, to guide them to the World Cup finals, even though he is suspended for Saturday’s qualifier against Wales in Cardiff.

However, the hopes and expectations now riding on the 25-year-old striker’s shoulders to revitalise Newcastle are perhaps even greater.

Eriksson nevertheless believes that while some players have been led astray in Newcastle, with even Jermaine Jenas trying to escape the supposed "goldfish bowl", Owen will prove to be the model professional.

 The Swede insisted: "He can be the next legend up there as a centre-forward, like Jackie Milburn, Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Shearer.

"It’s a huge challenge for him, taking Newcastle into Europe next season. But if your name is Michael Owen, you always have pressure on you when you go out onto the pitch as people always expect you to score.

"That’s his own fault as he’s scored so many goals! But you know that you will never have a problem with Michael Owen. He never asks for anything special, he’s not a diva or Prima Donna at all."

While Newcastle were desperate to sign Owen, Liverpool were only tempted on a cut-price deal, while the rest of the Premiership elite were not interested.

While Eriksson and Graeme Souness still deploy 4-4-2 systems, Chelsea and Manchester United prefer a more physical lone centre-forward, while Arsene Wenger did not believe that Owen would complement Thierry Henry.

Eriksson observed: "You can’t expect Michael Owen to win balls in the air against big centre-backs. But he’s one of the best goalscorers that you can find.

"His record says everything. He’s a great player and he still had a fantastic goalscoring record for Real last season.

"But I think it’s a very good move for him as big-name players don’t like to sit on the bench. He’s never done it in the past since he was 17 or 18, so I think he’s happy now.

"It might even be good, with him not playing in Europe this season, as he won’t play as many games as the other players. He’ll be fresh in June next year hopefully."

Eriksson discounted the idea that even if Owen and Shearer’s partnership at St James’ Park took off – as it never quite did for England – he might consider a recall for the veteran former England captain next summer.

"You never know in football but I don’t think so. Alan Shearer said no to England four-and-a-half years ago," he concluded.

"If we qualify, I don’t think it would be right to take in another player who hadn’t taken part in the last two tournaments if you don’t have to do it because of a lot of injuries."