Ignore Owen at Your Peril; Sven Must Pick Striker Regardless of Formation

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Byline: MATT LAWTON

AFTER spending a year in what he could have described as blissful ignorance, Michael Owen says he is glad to be back in English football for reasons that might surprise many of his international colleagues.

In Spain, he suggested here yesterday, he was starved of the things he considers unique to England - the media hype, the hysteria, the appetite for the game and the glare of the spotlight.

Owen never quite experienced that during his time with Real Madrid because of the obvious problems with the language, never knew exactly what was being written, precisely what was being said.

'English football is great,' said the new Newcastle striker. 'You go out on to the pitch and every eye is on you. And everything you do, good or bad, is going to be on the back pages of the papers.

'You make one bad pass and you know that is going to be talked about. The pressure of that - it's fantastic. You switch on the TV and you see the leading scorers' chart. You flick on to the next page and see the league table. There's a buzz it gives you.

The buzz of waking up every day and having it in your blood.

Knowing that you've got to grit your teeth and do what is needed. It drives you on. I missed that in Spain.

I'd pick up a paper and had no idea what was being said about me.' Of more concern to Owen last night, however, was what Sven Goran Eriksson was saying about him in the company of his coaching staff. Did England's coach intend to recall the diminutive striker? Or was a week with England about to prove as frustrating as a week in Madrid?

Eriksson kept his players guessing yesterday, organising a training session that focused more on the mistakes that were committed against Wales than on tomorrow night's game against Northern Ireland. It was an indication, perhaps, that the 4-5-1 formation will remain, but not much of a clue as to how, or whether, the team will change.

England's players walked rather than ran for much of the morning at London Colney, giving them time to appreciate the tactical thinking behind Eriksson's gameplan: an effort, clearly, to avoid the confusion that marked the closing 20 minutes of Saturday's 1-0 win.

At the same time, though, it was also an exercise in keeping everyone else guessing as well. Angered that his intended formation for Wales had emerged by last Wednesday, and concerned that Arsenal's training ground was too public a venue, he wanted to keep his ideas under wraps.

In previous years, Owen would have no reason to be concerned, not when he has so often proved himself the man for the big occasion. …