By Sean Hartnett

The warning signs are becoming clear to Michael Owen (photo) that his time with Manchester United may be coming to an end.  His contract is due to expire in the summer of 2011 and Owen is finding himself falling down the pecking order at Old Trafford.

Michael Owen Manchester United 2010/11 Chelsea V Manchester United (1-3) 08/08/10 The FA Community Shield Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

The 30 year-old striker has seldom been called upon by manager Sir Alex Ferguson since his free agent transfer to the Red Devils, only making 5 Premier League starts in his United career.  With Wayne Rooney being held out their Premier League clash against Everton, Owen was left as an unused substitute and only made a brief Champions League cameo against Rangers when Ferguson made 10 changes to the starting lineup and rested Dimitar Berbatov.  This must have surely come as an insult for a striker who has 89 caps for England under his belt and a well-renowned knack for goalscoring.

Since his return to fitness, Owen has found himself on the outside looking in when it comes to his chances at Manchester United.  Rooney and Berbatov are the clearly favored front-line partnership by Ferguson and the Red Devils have a number of young forwards already on their books.  Javier Hernández was United’s premier signing of the summer at £10m and many who watched him for Chivas and the Mexican national team feel that “Chicharito” has the ability to become a Premier League star.  Even 19 year-old Federico Macheda kept Owen out of United’s squad for their season opener against Newcastle.

The £7.4m that was splashed out upon signing unknown Portuguese forward Bebé has cast further doubts on Owen’s chances of remaining at Old Trafford.  Ferguson admitting that he hadn’t ever seen the player and only had signed him upon recommendation from former assistant Carlos Queiroz hints that Owen is not in the Scot’s long-term plans and a lack of faith in the former England international.

The striker’s recent comments give the impression that he is already contemplating his future, “At the end of the season I’ll look and think was I happy with the amount of games I was available for, did I score enough goals in the games when I played and did I play well enough in those games? You look at highlights of the season, did we win anything, things like that.”

With Sunday’s vital match-up against Liverpool nearing, there is thought amongst the British media that the former England national team ace will be left out of Ferguson’s squad completely.  This would be a further blow to Owen’s United lifeline as he would be desperate to prove himself in such an important Premier League contest.

As his chances with the Red Devils dwindle, begging the question – where will he be playing his football next season?  Gérard Houllier who managed Owen at Liverpool would be eager to bring the striker to Villa Park to remedy the club’s lack of finishing.  David Moyes has wanted to sign Owen for some time, but it the Everton board are unlikely to pay out decent wages to a player with an extensive injury history.  A number of lower-table Premier League clubs were linked with landing Owen before Ferguson swooped in during the summer of 2009 and would again be interested in acquiring him to ensure survival and increase kit sales.

Would a surprise return to Liverpool be completely out the question?  Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher urged Rafael Benítez to sign Owen as a free agent but the Spaniard declined.  Roy Hodgson is now at the helm and has a preference for signing English players.  Liverpool’s ownership saga continues and there is no timetable on when the club will be freed of their hated American owners so Hodgson may be forced to make due with another minuscule summer transfer budget, leading to more free transfers.

Fernando Torres Liverpool 2010/11 Birmingham City V Liverpool (0-0) 12/09/10 The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

The Reds have a clear lack of cover behind Fernando Torres and could use a proven goalscorer to ease some of the popular Spaniard’s burden.  Owen recently appeared in his close mate Carragher’s testimonial at Anfield and received a mixed ovation, suggesting that some of Liverpool’s supporters have forgiven him for his move to the club’s bitter rivals.  If Owen finds himself without a club next summer, there would a decent chance that Hodgson would at least consider controversially re-uniting him with the Kop.

It would be a move that would surely ruffle the feathers of some hardened Kopites who called him “Judas” for his move to the Red Devils.  Remember though, this is football and stranger things have happened.

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