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Owen's move to Real destined for failure

The recent move of Michael Owen from Liverpool to Spanish giants Real Madrid is a huge mistake on his part. The transfer, which caused a furor in the English media with fans on Merseyside lamenting his departure, is one that Owen will ultimately regret.

The competition for a starting spot at Madrid will be intense. Presumably, Owen believes he's good enough to break into the lineup, but I'm not so sure he is.

On first analysis, the clear winner in this situation is Real Madrid. Taking advantage of Owen's expiring contract to acquire him at a cut-rate price, the team simultaneously improves its squad depth and boosts its merchandising revenues. The obvious loser is Liverpool, who loses arguably its most valuable asset, and Owen himself, who will struggle to find playing time in La Liga.

Will Owen be able to adjust to La Liga?

There's no denying that Owen is a world-class goalscorer. His scoring rate validates that (158 goals in 297 appearances for Liverpool). Yet, Owen has been a mild disappointment of sorts. He's failed to live up to the massive, some say unrealistic, expectations cast upon him after the 1998 World Cup.

In that tournament, Owen cemented his fame by scoring a stunning individual effort against Argentina. In some ways, that goal has come to be his defining moment, for it can be argued that he has yet to score a goal close to that magnitude or skill level since.

Despite his goals, Owen has been treading water the last few years, becoming increasingly one-dimensional and easier for Premiership defenders to deal with. This can be seen in his declining goals to games ratio. (1 goal every 1.95 games over his last 2 seasons, compared to 1 goal every 1.69 games in the 2 seasons prior).

The reasons for this are three-fold, for despite his ability, Owen has some very obvious flaws.

Firstly, Owen has yet to improve his technical ability. He has little semblance of a left-foot shot, and his first touch is not the greatest for a player of his reputation.

Secondly, Owen has clearly lost a half-yard of pace over the last few years. In losing that pace, he has lost his one game-breaking dimension.

Finally, for such a prolific scorer, Owen has only an average ability to run at and take on defenders. In nearly all one-on-one situations with a defender, Owen is as predictable as a one-trick pony. He'll try to nutmeg the defender (by attempting to put the ball through his legs) or just knock it past him and try and outrun him to the ball.

Even so, there's no doubt that Owen can score goals anywhere. Playing at Madrid will probably further his skill development. With teammates of the creativity and ilk of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo, he'll be afforded an increased number of goal scoring chances.

Added to this is his opportunism and ability to consistently capitalize on errors by defenders in and around the box. What he cannot do, however, is make anything happen outside the box and is rarely a scoring threat with a long-range shot. He might not need to at Madrid given the way Zidane and company play the ball consistently into the box.

That said, Owen's real problem in Madrid will be getting off the bench. At best, he's the fourth choice striker, and that might only be because teen prodigy Portillo has been loaned to Serie A.

Owen and his advisors may have felt that he could push for a starting spot at Madrid given Raul's indifferent form last season. However the reality is that Owen is not in the same class as Raul and certainly not near the level of Ronaldo, the world's most dangerous striker.

Complicating matters is Raul's status as a Spanish icon, making him nearly impossible to dislodge. Even a below-par Raul will probably be chosen ahead of Owen.

Compounding the situation, Owen won't even be the first-choice striker off the bench. That honor belongs to last year's leading scorer in the Champions League, Fernando Morientes, a personal favorite of new Madrid coach Jose Camacho.

It's unclear at this point if Owen will feature in any meaningful games for Madrid save as an injury replacement. If I were Owen, I'd be getting ready for some serious R&R.

As for Madrid, it's not clear why they actually wanted him for football reasons. Real has more pressing needs elsewhere, chiefly a ball-winning defensive midfielder.

In La Liga, Owen will be merely a luxury subsitute. For all of Real President Florentino Perez's trumpeting about adding a galactico or the world's best at his position every year, Owen hardly fits that description. Owen is clearly not close to being the best striker in the world. It's debatable if he is even in the top 10 currently.

For non-football reasons though, it's clear why he was brought to Madrid.

The Owen deal for Madrid reeks of yet another marketing-based decision by Perez. It's clearly a move designed to enhance Madrid's fan base and merchandising revenue abroad.

Particularly in Asia, where anyone who isn't a Beckham fan invariably tends to be an Owen fan. Owen's boyish good looks are a factor here as well (Real Madrid aides are famously on record in the Spanish media as saying that Ronaldinho was too 'ugly' to be a galactico when talking about their decision not to sign him last year).

As an added bonus, perhaps the arrival of Owen will help David Beckham adjust better to life in Spain. Beckham has notoriously struggled with the change and in trying to learn the Spanish language (maybe less time on the catwalks and more time hitting the books would help) and the arrival of Owen may make him feel more at home.

For Owen himself, his desire to move to Madrid is a little more puzzling. Was the allure of Madrid really that appealing? Was it his desire to try European football or was it simply his desire to move to a more successful club in order to win more titles?

The fact that he accepted a pay-cut to move to Madrid shows his determination to leave Liverpool. Rumors of a possible personality clash with new Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez may have been part of his motivation.

However, I think he may simply be the victim of poor advice from his agent and father who regaled him with stories of Real Madrid lore. Confidence is healthy, but in this case, Owen and his advisors may have overestimated his ability.

As for the ramifications at Liverpool - let's get one thing straight, selling Owen at this point was the only option they had. Given the pending expiration of his contract and his desire to leave, there was nothing the board could do.

So, why wasn't he sold earlier last year when the club could have cashed in on a far larger fee? The answer is simple, Liverpool needed his goals last season in order to claim the vital fourth place Champions League spot.

There are also those who claim that selling Owen rips another large chunk of the local 'scouser heart' out of the club. Sheer nonsense, Owen is not even from Liverpool. He was born in Chester and grew up a self-professed Everton fan.

Quite simply, when a player no longer wants to play for a team, it's best for all concerned that he leaves. Obviously his goals will need to be replaced and Liverpool fans can only hope that new record-signing Djibril Cisse is up to the task.

For Owen, the coming months will prove to be a challenge. Training every day with the stars at Madrid will probably improve his game. The irony, of course, is that he's unlikely to get much opportunity to display this improvement.

He and his advisors will probably discover to their detriment that although he is now officially part of the Galacticos, Owen is in actual fact, no 'Galactico'.

Armchair musings

  • Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira recently decided to turn down Real Madrid's overtures last week. Since then, the papers in England have been rife with Vieira telling reporters of his loyalty to Arsenal. Vieira cites his love of the club as being the main reason he decided to stay.

    If anyone actually believes that, they probably think Harry Potter is a real person too. Vieira obviously has some sentimental attachment to Arsenal; eight years at a club will do that. However his recent claims smack of an obvious spin move.

    The obvious reason for his staying is that Real Madrid refused to give him a salary equal to its top earners at the club, the afore-mentioned galacticos. Madrid actually offered Vieira a pay cut from what he was earning at Arsenal. No doubt Vieira's ego and bank account found it hard to accept, hence the deal was off.

    In some ways it might not have been a bad idea to sell Vieira. Although he's probably the best defensive midfielder in the world today, his value will never be higher. He's also become increasingly susceptible to injuries the last two seasons (missing 23 games in the Premiership), and Arsenal could use the money given its ongoing financing of a new stadium.

    Furthermore, in the last two seasons, Arsenal has learned to cope without Vieira. In games he's missed, they've won 16 of 23 with only 3 losses. Last season in the games that he missed, Arsenal won 6 of 9 and tied the other 3 games.

    Don't get me wrong, Vieira is still a dominant player. However I'd argue that for Arsenal, he's gone from irreplaceable the last two years, to merely hard to replace. There's currently only one irreplaceable player at Arsenal, and that's Thierry Henry. Arsenal also has a superb midfield prospect, the talented teenager Cesc Fabregas who needs more playing time. Given that, he will likely end up being heir to Vieira's midfield throne at Arsenal.

  • On another note, Newcastle's Kieron Dyer has already earned the wrath of his home fans after just one game this season. The enigmatic Dyer cemented that status with what most observers considered to be a display of petulance. Dyer is as well known for his off-field escapades and inconsistency as for his talent. Now he's simply known in Newcastle as a public pariah and fans are virtually unanimous in their anger.

    Prior to the opening game he had been involved in a training session spat with manager Bobby Robson over his preference to play central midfield as opposed to the right midfield position typically assigned him.

    Dyer entered the game against Middlesborough last Saturday as a late game substitute. However, his body language, while warming up on the touchline, already indicated he was ignoring Robson's instructions. On entering the game, Dyer drifted to central midfield and vacated the right midfield zone. His negligent play in right midfield allowed Middlesborough winger Boudewijn Zenden to utilize the open space and provide the cross that led to the last-minute equalizer.

    With such a blatant display of unprofessionalism, I believe Newcastle has done the right thing by placing Dyer on the transfer list. He'll likely be sold to the first team that meets his $13.6 million price tag, although it's questionable at this point whether any team would be willing to pay that.

  • I can't end without mentioning Zinedine Zidane's recent retirement from international football. Unequivocally one of the three best French players ever (along with Just Fontaine and Michel Platini), Zidane distinguished himself from those other two legends by winning the World Cup.

    I myself would place him just behind Platini in terms of sheer overall talent, but Zidane possesses an incredible ability to perform in the clutch. Although typically not a goal-scorer (his personal season-high is 10 goals), Zidane scores without fail in all the biggest games. Two goals in the World Cup final, and an incredible game-winning volley in the Champions League final cement his legacy as the one of the greatest clutch players of the modern era. He'll undoubtedly be missed on the world stage.

    Jen Chang is the U.S. editor for ESPN He can be reached at: