MICHAEL OWEN feels like a man on a mission, determined to show the world that he still has something to offer the Premier League.
He hopes to be on the Stoke City bench against Manchester City tomorrow, hoping even more to have the opportunity to demonstrate the finishing touch that settled the Manchester derby in United's favour three years ago.
Owen's time at Old Trafford was one of initial promise, even a 2009 Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg, but the proliferation of talented strikers and his unfortunate reacquaintance with the physio room meant that it was inevitable he would be released by Alex Ferguson this summer after scoring 17 goals in 52 games over three seasons.
"I was privileged to play at a top club like Manchester United," said Owen yesterday, talking before training with his new team-mates.
"It was everything I hoped it would be. Manager, players, fans, staff, everything was brilliant," added Owen, now 32.
"I scored a hat-trick in one game and did not start the next, but that goes to show how good the players were. I'd be foolish to think that at 30 or 31 I was going to play ahead of Wayne Rooney and people like Chicharito or Danny Welbeck. Robin van Persie has also joined, so maybe my time there came to a natural end.
"I have some great memories, scoring cup final goals, hat-tricks in the Champions League and the winner against City. Inevitably it (his potential debut) is against Man City and everyone knows that's one of the clubs I had an exciting time against in the last few years."
He said his derby goal in 2009 "is a memory that will never be taken away from me," and added: "People conveniently forget all that, they just talk about all the time I was on the bench.
"Every time you play for United it felt as if it was a big pressure, you just know the whole world is waiting, anticipating. If you don't play well, or don't score, suddenly you might not get an opportunity for a month or two, so suddenly people can have a downer on you."
For a footballer who provided so many moments of hope for England fans, from St Etienne to Shizuoka, Owen attracts a surprising number of brickbats. So he accepts the 'man on a mission' tag.
"That's a very good way of putting it -- that's how I feel," he continued. "I have a lot to prove. There'll be a lot of people hoping for me to do well, not because they support Stoke, but they want me to do well. Inevitably you'll get doom-mongers.
"I want to prove I can stand the rigours of a full season. From the club's point of view, that's a slight risk. We all like to think it's a risk worth taking." (© Daily Telegraph, London)