By Jim Wirth
A couple of weeks break for international duty could not have come at a better time for Real Madrid CF striker Michael Owen. A role in England's 2-0 win against Wales and then the winning goal and rare opportunity to wear the captain's armband as Sven-Göran Eriksson's side won 1-0 in Azerbaijan were respite from a difficult spell at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Since signing from Liverpool FC in the summer, the 24-year-old has failed to score for his new club, and has seen the coach that brought him to Spain, José Antonio Camacho, give way to Mariano García Remón. However, Owen has not given way to despair yet: "I never came here expecting to walk straight into the team," he said. "I knew I'd be sitting on the substitutes' bench quite a bit to start with."
Owen has yet to play a full 90 minutes or score for Madrid despite playing in five of their six Primera División games, and there is no doubt that he wants more action. "You're always greedy, you always want more, but there's no other person really bar myself that can help me," he said. "If I play well then obviously I'm going to give myself a better chance of playing."
Having been regarded as one of the finest goalscorers of his generation in England, sitting on the bench is a new experience for Owen – and one that does not suit his go-getting mentality. "I've never been one just to sit back and say I've made it now because I'm sat here with very good players," he said. "I want to get into the team and then once I get into the team, I want to be one of the leading goalscorers."
Owen's failure to make an impact in Madrid has been a cause for concern in England. Journalists have even asked Liverpool coach Rafael Benítez whether he would be interested in bringing Owen home. "I think the new FIFA rules say you cannot transfer the one player twice in the same season," said the coach diplomatically.
Nevertheless, Owen is not thinking about a new Mersey mission just yet. "I want to drive on and start playing more games," said the English international, a star of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. "
The longer I am here the more I am expecting myself to progress, so that's the main goal - to keep fit and get into the starting lineup."
Rumours in Spain suggested that it was Owen's arrival that had unsettled Madrid, prompting their poor start to the season. In a squad that already featured Ronaldo, Raúl González and Fernando Morientes, some argued that Owen's arrival made one striker too many and the resulting tension cost Camacho his job.
However, Owen refutes such claims. "I couldn't see any barriers between players and manager and I enjoyed it while [Camacho] was here," he said. The former Anfield hero added that the atmosphere in the dressing room continued to be positive at Madrid - contrary, he admitted, to what he had expected.
"It was surprising how tight a unit the team is," he said. "I bet people think they're a lot of big stars and everyone has got egos to massage, but I've found it very good. Obviously I don't understand all of the language yet - I don't understand ten per cent of it yet to be honest - but I'm trying my hardest to learn. A few of them speak English so that helps."
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