Owen Capture Signalls Ferguson's Intent

Chris DowdingCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2009

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 16:  Sir Alex Ferguson the manager of Manchester United lifts the Barclays Premier League trophy after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on May 16, 2009 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

It has been a summer of intrigue at Old Trafford so far. On the back of losing to Barcelona in the Champions League Final. The footballer widely recognised as the finest in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo has departed for Real Madrid, Carlos Tevez and his dummy appear to be on their way to local rivals Man City.

Thus far, Sir Alex Ferguson has only signed two replacements, Antonio Valencia from Wigan and, to the shock of nearly everyone, Michael Owen.

There are many things I never thought I would see, and the sight of Michael Owen in a Manchester United shirt is pretty close to the top of the list.

His signing has been met with mixed reactions, from surprise to delight.

When you consider the bigger picture however, it is a brilliant signing and one that points to a possible change in style for Ferguson's team. A style that has served him well in the past.

United's 68 Premier League goals last season was a paltry return when you consider the array of attacking talent at Ferguson's disposal. At times it felt as though the players were playing within themselves and that there was another gear to be found. But they rarely found that gear.

The fact of the matter is, they didn't need to. While Liverpool were breaking their backs to win games, United were hardly breaking sweat. While that might look like a nice statement, it made for a season that was, in parts, underwhelming.

That is not to say that the success was underwhelming, far from it. But to see the players seemingly just going through the motions and doing just enough was disappointing.

Width seemed to be a problem last season. Ferguson loves a good winger, and while Cristiano Ronaldo is nominally a winger, his all round game is so good that he could operate anywhere across the front line. And he frequently did. This meant that certain players had to almost sacrifice themselves for the good of the team.

Cheif among these players was Wayne Rooney, who patrolled the left flank with great distinction for much of the latter half of the season.

Build up play was slow, and the free flowing attacking football which has been one of Manchester United's trademarks was lost.

That looks set to change in the forthcoming season.

In Valencia, Ferguson has a winger in the finest traditions. He has a trick or two in his locker, but his biggest asset is blistering pace. Tricks are all well and good, but the ability to push a ball past a fullback and race onto it and then deliver a telling cross is much loved at Old Trafford.

Many feel that one of the greatest exponents of this art at United was Andrei Kanchelskis. Valencia has the tools to emulate the flying Ukrainian.

What of Owen, where does he fit into this?

Since Ruud van Nistelrooy left Old Trafford and the retirement of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United have lacked a real predator. Owen can be that man.

His fitness is, of course, a concern. Many of the games he missed at Newcastle were as a result of being pressed back into action too soon and picking up another knock as a result.

That shouldn't be a problem at Manchester United. There is enough talent in the squad for the team to manage the absence of Owen if he is not fit.

Indeed, it is unlikely will begin life as a first team starter. Owen may well fill the Solskjaer role as a super-sub, at least initially.

If he is kept fit, he will be an invaluable weapon for Ferguson's side. The chances that they will create—especially if they return to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation, using pace and width—will have someone in the box who is more than capable of finishing them off.

Owen's motivation is there for all to see. He gets a chance to prove the doubters wrong, to keep his fitness up, to play Champions League football again. Perhaps the biggest motivation is to make England coach Fabio Capello sit up and take notice.

The fact that Owen's two year contract is largely made up of a "pay as you play" structure says everything about his determination.

This current Manchester United side is still developing, and maybe needs further tweaking, both in personnel and style.

Owen's arrival may ensure that an area in which it laboured at times last season, will not be such an issue this time around.

Sticking the ball in the net.