Much water has flown down the Thames since this blue-eyed boy of English football came in to international spot-light with that sensational goal against Argentina in 1998 FIFA World Cup. Michael Owen has seen it all – he has been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows – so much so that the former Liverpool star had no other alternative but to rechristen himself as a Red Devil to survive in his battle of existence.

When a spell of injury layoff in 2006-07 season was followed by disastrous on-field performance in the next couple of seasons, fans and well-wishers feared the worst. The heart-throb of English media was down and almost out. It was at that crucial juncture when Sir Alex Ferguson approached the beleaguered striker and provided him a new lease of life – which in Owen’s own words came “out of the blue”.

He was handed over the prestigious Number 7 jersey which one would associate with the United Legends. Owen vindicated the Gaffer’s faith in him as he found the back of the net after coming on as a late second half substitute in his debut appearance in United colors against Malaysian XI in a pre-season friendly and continued in the same fashion in Premiership as well. However, he was yet to convince a large set of United faithful who were a bit apprehensive to greet him from the heart because of his Merseyside back-ground. But Owen did not have to wait too long to find his way into United hearts as he scored his first goal for United at Old Trafford when he netted the winning goal in the sixth minute of stoppage time against bitter city-rivals Manchester City to help his side earn a dramatic 4-3 derby win. The emotion knew no bounds and his abhorrence with the Red Devils soon turned in to a love affair.

The honeymoon period, though, got over almost immediately as a hamstring injury forced him out of the reminder of the season and he found himself thrown on to the surgeon’s table once again. Tour of the medical room continued in this season too and despite him playing a number of useful cameos, it prompted the rumors of his possible exit from Old Trafford at the end of 2010-11 season.

All these speculations came to an end last week when Sir Alex finally offered Owen a one-year contract extension. However, the renewal of contract has drawn mixed reactions from the Old Trafford faithful with an apparent split of opinions. Although nobody, for once, can think about doubting Sir Alex’s judgement, yet they can’t escape away from the fact that even the great Scot has made a few mistakes in the past.

It paved way for a tasty debate with a number of valid arguments and counter arguments in favor of the contract extension as well as against it. Let’s find out the verdict of Manchester United contingent at TheHardTackle in this regard. And, quite expectedly, the opinions are at odds, with Nitin Goel putting forth his arguments against Owen’s contract extension while Nipun Malhotra trying his best to counter Nitin’s arguments listing out the reasons to justify Sir Alex’s decision to retain the prolific scorer.

Nitin’s View – Owen’s Contract Should Not Have Been Extended!

Owen is now a part of the squad for almost two years, yet he has made just 47 appearances for the club – most of them as a substitute. In the second season, he has played just 16 games including just one league start which probably indicates the management’s lack of faith in him. Also, the fact that he has made little impact in those limited outings makes the decision to sign him even more surprising. Apart from the hattrick at Wolfsburg, Cup final goal against Villa and ‘that’ goal against Manchester City, Owen has failed to make any significant contribution for the club. Three memorable highlights in a two-year period are too few for a player at the club of this stature.

In the past, Sir Alex has had back-up strikers whom he had not been shy of giving a starting role, strikers who would have walked into any other club’s starting XI. With the trio of Rooney, Hernandez and Berbatov at his disposal, Owen of today does not fall in the same category. He has lost a couple of yards of pace since his heydays and certainly not that threatening in front of goal which has been visible in the past two seasons where he has spurned a few chances which were expected to be put away by any United striker.

No doubt, Owen’s professionalism and attitude has been brilliant in the past two seasons as he has praised the club and the manager every step of the way despite having seen so little action. But these qualities cannot be the sole reason to keep a player at United with the level of football required at the club. Even players like Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Mark Hughes et all who had a fantastic attitude have been disposed when the time was right which shows there is no place for free riders at the club.

Also, Owen’s injury problems are not a secret to anyone. Although he is on a ‘pay as you play’ deal, yet United would surely want a player in their squad who is ready to play week-in week-out, rather than have him injured and save money on his wages. Owen’s injury in the last four months of the season before last probably cost United very dearly as there was nobody capable enough to replace Rooney when he was out injured for the crucial games against Chelsea and Blackburn at the end of the season when a win in any one of those two games would have won the title for United. With the 25-man squad rule implemented from last year, it is important to have players who can last the whole season without having constant niggles and this cannot be said with surety in Owen’s case.

Keeping Owen for one more year would have the biggest impact on the likes of Macheda, Welbeck and Mame Diouf who would be returning from loan. After having successful spells at Sampdoria and Sunderland respectively, both Macheda and Welbeck would have relished an opportunity with the first team to build on the experience received on loan, but with Owen staying at Old Trafford the chances of the young brigade would suffer. This could also mean these players would once again be sent on loan or even sold if they demand, and perhaps rightly so, more first team action.

There is certainly no replacement for experience but there is also no replacement for youth and with the heaps of young talent at their disposal, United might have been better off taking a different path which would have taken them to a greater distance.

Owen is certainly far from indispensible, and as Ferguson looks to be planning a revamp, Owen seems like a square peg in a round hole!

Nipun’s View – Michael Owen’s Contract Extension Is Totally Justified!

Once an adapted-Scouser, now a Devil, Mickey Owen has always done justice to his role as an important squad player ever since his move to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. Sir Alex has since long been an admirer of the classy Englishman, who in his prime won the European player of the year award – “Ballon D’or”. However, playing for our fiercest rivals from Merseyside meant Owen wasn’t really welcomed with open arms by the so called “Top Reds” and probably justifiably so.

Yet, Michael Owen’s professionalism has shown many of us what a true sportsman he really is. Don’t get it wrong, many a brave soul would have shirked from such a move – a Kop idol wearing the United red.  Money was hardly the criteria as Owen could have gone to a lesser club on better wages and surely on a permanent deal. He didn’t as he decided to choose the tougher road by accepting a pay-as-you-play offer and fighting it out amongst the big boys.

His first season should go down as a success; Owen’s European hat-trick against Wolfsburg was a master class, his goal in the Cup final crucial and he gave decent contributions throughout the campaign. However, Michael Owen’s finest moment eclipses everything before and probably everything after. Owen scored “that” goal, silenced the noisy neighbours and became a part of United folklore. Unfortunate injuries curtailed his first season as a United player, Rooney suffered a crucial blow as well and United fell tantalizingly short. A fit Mickey Owen would have been handy, alas.

Owen’s second season has been rather less eventful to be honest. Playing almost fourth choice to the likes of Rooney, Berbatov and Hernandez, Owen has got very little chance to deliver significantly to the United cause. However, he has conducted himself brilliantly, never ever thrown a tantrum and just been a perfect ambassador.  To be fair, no one in their right mind would have foreseen such a dramatic impact by the debutant Mexican.  Owen’s playing time has been cut short enormously by the rapid strides made by the one ‘Chicharito’.

Nevertheless Michael Owen’s love for a fight seems as radiant as his love for horse racing. Owen’s ready to challenge for first team action and give the manager some food for thought. Chicharito’s playing style greatly resembles that of Owen and there is no doubt Owen has been a big influence on the little Mexican, something which usually goes unappreciated.

Ferguson’s decision to extend Owen’s contract might not seem the right move by sections of Old Trafford faithful but with VDS, Neville and Scholes retiring Ferguson doesn’t want to lose out on experienced professionals in a heap. One thing that Ferguson always gets right is the blend of youth and experience in the squad, and Owen provides a plethora of premiership experience and the pedigree to boot.

Furthermore, one should remember United’s last campaign was mostly injury free w.r.t the striking department. However, in case of injuries to either Rooney or Hernandez, the question to be asked is who would people rather have as an option, Michael Owen or a young and inexperienced Fredrico Macheda?  The Italian’s time might come but there is absolutely no substitute for experience, Owen’s premiership know-how is worth its weight in gold.

Chicharito has baffled one and all with his rise and rise, the second season would be tougher for the Mexican, the defences will be on their guard and defenders better aware, Chicho might find it a bit harder; the second season syndrome has often caught up with the best of men.

All said and done, lets be completely objective – Owen is experienced, English and well aware of his role in the squad. Michael Owen was a world-class goal scorer, who has had bad luck in his career, with persistent niggles. He is a brilliant asset to have at OT, especially in terms of his effect on the younger strikers. Fergie doesn’t do anything without a plan, so let’s wait and see. If he’s been given a new contract it’s because Sir Alex thinks he’s worth it, and that should be good enough after all.

United faithful should not blind ourselves with hatred owing to his roots with a certain team. Owen’s here on merit and deserves his chances. The Red Devils should back him all the way – nothing ticks off the Scousers more than watching their former hero succeed, especially donning the red of their much despised rivals.