Owen admits he has a lot to prove ahead of debut with Stoke

Ian Baker

MICHAEL OWEN may not be the force he once was when playing for Liverpool and England, but the striker believes he can put his injury problems behind him to show he is still Premier League class.

Owen is in line to make his debut for Stoke City against Manchester City tomorrow, playing for the first time since a thigh injury ended his Manchester United career prematurely 10 months ago.

Although Owen, who has scored 40 times for his country, speaks very highly of former Old Trafford manager Alex Ferguson, he still wants to prove he was wrong to release him at the end of last term.

Owen said: "I feel like I'm a man on a mission. People say you have things to prove and I suppose I have a lot to prove.

"I want to prove I can stand the rigours of a full season. Inevitably, there would be one or two games you might miss for an injury here and there. But in general terms I want to be fit for most of the season and it would be foolish to wish for anything more after the season I had last year.

"I've got that to prove and from the club's point of view that's a slight risk. I think we all like to think it's a risk worth taking.

"The feedback I'm getting from the fitness staff here is that I'm pretty much amongst the pack in terms of fitness."

The signing of 32-year-old Owen represents something of a coup for Tony Pulis, who admitted he first enquired about the striker, who has also played for Newcastle and Real Madrid, last May.

"When I spoke to Alex, he gave Michael a really good mention, said although he'd missed a lot of games, he had been fit," recalled Pulis.

"That's important to state. He's got a chance. We are in a great position for him -- 35 minutes away from his stables, his home. He's a big family man, he didn't want to move.

"Bigger clubs than us might have taken Michael if they were closer to his home. I kept the No 10 shirt for him and loads of people wanted it.

"I think he sees himself more of a link player now than the dynamic young lad who burst on the scene at France '98. "I went down to St Etienne and watched that Argentina game. He was fantastic and the goal was brilliant. He's changed and he had to change. Players change as they get older. He'll be a great asset to us."