Owen: Newcastle first, then England

August 30, 2007

Michael Owen insists Newcastle will continue to come first as England boss Steve McClaren keeps his fingers crossed for the striker's well-being.

The 27-year-old frontman scored his first competitive goal for the Magpies in more than 20 months last night as Sam Allardyce's men saw off Coca-Cola Championship Barnsley to claim their place in the Carling Cup third round draw.

It was Owen's first start of the season and just his 14th in a black and white shirt after two miserable, injury-hit years on Tyneside.

However, while Owen left St James' Park with a smile on his face and Sam Allardyce started to ponder just how to select a frontline for Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with Wigan from the £17million man, Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins and Shola Ameobi, McClaren had his own agenda.

The England manager was in the crowd to see his 37-goal leading scorer find the back of the net, something he would dearly love to see him repeat against Israel and Russia in next month's crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Wayne Rooney's injury and Peter Crouch's unavailability have left McClaren sweating on Owen's form and fitness.

But while the man himself is fully-committed to his country's cause, he knows where his first loyalty must lie.

He said: 'I hope the England manager was pleased, but my initial concerns are Newcastle and playing for Newcastle because if I don't play for Newcastle, I don't play for England.

'Newcastle is very important to me. Hopefully I can play some part on Saturday as well and do well, and if I do that, hopefully I will get the call from England.

'But it is in that order. It is club first and you have got to do well for your club or you are not picked for your country.'

Owen, provided he remains fit after shaking off the thigh injury he picked up as he returned for a 10-month lay-off following knee surgery, will be included not only in McClaren's squad, but in his team.

To that end, the sight of him scoring just his eighth Newcastle goal - and only his second at St James' - was good news for both the Magpies and England.

He said: 'Playing and scoring are the two things I get paid to do and when you have done both of them, you go home happy with your night's work.

'I wouldn't say the feeling of coming off after playing and scoring and winning was one of relief.

'I know I'm fine, I know I'm fit, I know I'm strong and I know if I am all those things, then they add up to Michael Owen scoring goals because that's what I have always done.

'I am not relieved in any way, I'm just happy I can go home like every other player and look forward to training and look forward to the game on Saturday, because I haven't been able to do that for quite a while.'

Owen's dreadful run of luck since his move to Tyneside from Real Madrid two years ago tomorrow - he was out for five months with a fractured metatarsal before missing all but three games of last season with the cruciate ligament rupture he suffered at the 2006 World Cup finals - have left him a peripheral figure for much of that time.

However, he is confident his fitness problems are now behind him and relishing the chance to rediscover his best form and remind the Premier League of his enduring potency.

He said: 'I felt fine. Reading was my game back after knee surgery last season. I played those three games and I played three games for England in the summer and worked right the way through the summer.

'I joined back with the rest of the lads and I was probably fitter then the rest of them at that point because I'd worked right the way through.'

Meanwhile, Viduka, much to Allardyce's relief, has been left out of the Australia squad for the friendly against Argentina in Melbourne next month