MICHAEL Owen admits his physical breakdowns have wrecked his time on Tyneside – but the England international still strongly denies he is injury-prone.
Although Owen acknowledges that his decision to play for England in the last World Cup was a mistake as his body was not strong enough to cope with the demands of international football, Newcastle’s £16.5m record signing is annoyed by people who constantly claim he is vulnerable to injury. Owen travelled to Germany in 2006 despite playing just 20 minutes of first-team football for Newcastle in five months after he broke his foot in a freak collision with Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Eve.
It is a decision the striker claims he had to make, but it is also a decision he blames for the injury problems which have followed.
Owen has started just 60 games in almost four years at St James’s Park, and the 29-year-old argued his problems can be traced back to that accidental clash with his England colleague at the end of 2005.
He said: “There is no hiding from the fact injuries have been the bane of my time at Newcastle. It is frustrating, however, and people will probably laugh, but I know I’m not injury-prone.
“If you look at my time at Newcastle, the problems started when Paul Robinson landed on my foot against Tottenham just after Christmas. Loads of people get metatarsal injuries, but they are normally not as bad as mine. Nobody’s foot would not have broken in that situation.
“I’ve then rushed my preparations for the World Cup. I played half-a-game for Newcastle. After being in plaster for so long my leg was de-conditioned and with hindsight, I should never have gone to Germany with England.
“It’s easy to say that now, but if I had my time again I would still have gone because it was a World Cup. I’m not thinking what could have been, but with hindsight my leg was half as strong as it should have been.
“Muscles support limbs and I twisted my knee awkwardly and that was it. All that came from someone landing on my foot, so I don’t think it’s my fault.”
That knee injury, suffered in the first half of England’s 2-2 draw with Sweden in the final game of the group stage, ruled Owen out for the next ten months and he played just three games for Newcastle the following season.
In the last two seasons, however, Owen has played in a more respectable 57, 33 last season and 24 so far this time around.
It is a record, probably with more than one eye on the fact he has still not agreed
a new contract with Newcastle and will be a free agent at the end of the season, he is keen to defend.
He said: “I know I’ve had valid reasons for why I’ve picked up injuries. I had a reputation for being injury-prone because I’d had a few hamstring problems at Liverpool.
“At Real Madrid people said I was on the bench the whole time, but I started more games than I was a substitute.
“Then came the foot and knee injuries. Since then I’ve had hernia surgery – which is very common – and I was playing again and scoring nine days later against Everton. This season I twisted my ankle, which was another freak thing because I landed on the foot of the defender and that caused the problem.
“I can understand people saying I should have played more because nobody wants to play more than me, but it does frustrate me when people say I’m injury-prone.
“There is no way I go on to the pitch and I am more fragile than anyone else. The injuries I’ve had could have happened to anyone in those circumstances.”
Owen has only just returned to the Newcastle side following the ankle injury he suffered against Manchester City in January, but he realises he does not have time to ease himself back into things because of United’s relegation fears.
He added: “Hopefully the injuries haven’t detracted from me as a player. I’ve adapted my game as I’ve got older and my body has dictated that to an extent. When I was 18 and 19 I was flying down the wings like a greyhound, beating players and crossing the ball.
“Alan Shearer was the same, he changed his game and became more of a target man towards the end, but he still got the goals.
“Clever players will always manage to adapt, they will always find a way of prevailing even if their bodies change.
“The one thing I’ve got a history of is taking one or two games to get into my stride again, but we haven’t got time for me to do that. Hopefully my eye is in straight away and I start knocking the goals in again immediately.”