Fergie admits Owen Cup fear

United boss feels Rooney form will keep veteran striker on bench

Owen: World Cup race

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Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson feels there is little more he can do to help Michael Owen make England's World Cup squad.

The 89-cap striker is eager to play in a fourth World Cup this summer but has not played for England since the friendly against France in March 2008.

After Owen's contract at Newcastle expired last summer, he hoped a surprise move to United would propel him into Fabio Capello's plans for South Africa.

Ferguson needed to compensate for the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez and saw Owen as a valuable addition to his squad.

But the 30-year-old has spent most of the season on the bench playing second fiddle to in-form Wayne Rooney.

The England star has taken on the mantle as United's leading goal threat from Ronaldo, and Ferguson feels Rooney's form and style of play make it impossible to give Owen any more game-time.


"I'm sure Michael would love to go to the World Cup, a player with that history and goalscoring ability," he said.

"He'd want to re-enact what he did back in 1998 when he had a great World Cup.

"We'll try to get him there as best we can, but it's difficult when you've got a squad of our size. It's difficult to leave Rooney out of your team.

"That's the thing, because I think he's identical to Wayne in the position he plays, which is further up the pitch with Dimitar Berbatov in your team.

"Your combination is more likely to be Berbatov and Owen or Berbatov and Rooney. With Rooney and Owen together you'd have to drop Rooney in the hole and I prefer to play him further up the pitch."

Despite making just four league starts, Owen has still made an important contribution for United this season, scoring the winner in the derby against Manchester City and a UEFA Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg.

The former Liverpool man has cast aside doubts over his recent fitness record but Capello has said he needs to be playing regularly to be considered for the World Cup and Ferguson believes the Rooney-Berbatov partnership will go from strength to strength. "Michael is part of the squad and plays his part," he said. "When he came to the club it was on that understanding exactly.

"It's difficult when Rooney's in the kind of form he's been in. He's been great this season.

Great trainer

"Michael's never had a problem or missed a day's training with us. When we brought him here we looked at his training record, which was quite good.

"He's had injuries over the years but not with us. We're managing him in the right way."

Ferguson added: "There is a combination (between Rooney and Berbatov). They are suited as a partnership.

"The understanding has grown. Some partnerships click straight away, like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. That was uncanny. It just happened.

"When I bought Yorkie my thought was maybe he'd partner Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Teddy Sheringham. But when Yorkie and Cole played together it was unbelievable.

"Hopefully Rooney and Berbatov will go on in the same way.

"Berbatov was carrying an injury that was affecting his game and he wondered if he should have an operation.

"But he's come through that now and we hope he can have a good second half of the season. He's a talented player."