Of all of the exciting transfers so far this summer, none of them were as shrewed as what Alex Ferguson pulled off Friday.
Manchester United’s signing of Michael Owen was, for lack of a better word, easy. So easy I’m mad at myself I didn’t see this coming and I’m puzzled why other manages, most notably Rafa Benetiez, didn’t think of this move before Ferguson. True, there’s an 80 percent chance Owen will have no impact whatsoever on next years title race. But there’s a 20 percent chance he will and that’s what makes it so easy.
This signing has very little to do with football and a lot to do with basic business principals: What’s the risk of signing Michael Owen and what’s the reward?
For the risk, let’s say in his first United training session Owen tears every ligament in his right knee, ending his career. Since Owen was a free agent he cost nothing to sign and from reports Owen will make about £50,000 a week. For whatever reason, the Premier League releases individual team’s wage bills a year late, but it’s safe to say The Reds are spending about £2 million a week on player salaries. Therefore, Owen takes up around 2.5 percent of the total United wage budget. Having a player eat up salary while in retirement isn’t ideal, and 2.5 percent isn’t inconsequential, but it’s also not destabilizing or even slightly threatening to United’s overall budget.
But I don’t think Owen blowing out his knee is the worst-case scenario for United fans. If Owen stays healthy but can’t produce it’s even a worse (just ask Newcastle). But with Owen’s recent track record and his relatively low salary, Ferguson will be under no pressure to put Owen in the starting 11 if he doesn’t think he belongs. If Owen struggles, it’s well within the realm of possibility Owen will be loaned out in January.
So what’s the reward? Owen has been around for so long it seems like he is 34 but he’s still just 29. His injuries have robbed him of his blinding pace and he doesn’t score goals like he used to, but he still scores. He found the net eight times last year in 27 league apperances and two years ago he scored 11 goals in 29 matches. Not terrible for a player on a terrible team. Not to say Owen is a better player than Roque Santa Cruz, but Santa Cruz scored four goals in 20 matches last year and cost Manchester City £18 million while United paid nada for Owen.
This probably won’t work but it concevably could and that’s what makes this such an easy move for Ferguson. There is litterally no real risk! How many investment deals in any line of business are there no risks? And Ferguson deserves credit for recognizing this before his competitors did.
Two day ago, Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce was reported by the Guardianas saying Owen was “not for me” because he was too much of a gamble. Allardyce is probably right; a £50,000 a week contract for Blackburn is probably 7 or 8 percent of Blackburn’s wage budget, which is too much considering Owen’s recent injury struggles.
But what about Chelsea and Liverpool? Either club could have easily afforded Owen and it’s not as though either squad is over-wealmed with strikers. The move really would have made sense for Liverpool, giving Owen a chance to redeem himself at his old club. But Benitez passed and Ferguson pounced and sometime next spring when the two clubs meet in a critical match, maybe, just maybe, Owen will make Benetiz pay.