ONCE a player at Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United, Michael Owen now describes himself as a fan of Swansea City.
Not a supporter, as such, but an admirer of the way things are done at the Liberty Stadium.
When Owen was winning the Ballon D’Or 13 years ago, Swansea were on their way back to the basement division after one miserable season at the third level of English football.
Owen has been well impressed with the progress Swansea have made since then — yet he has sympathy for Michael Laudrup.
“I really rate Swansea,” says the striker turned pundit.
“I like the way they play, but I just think it’s so hard when you are playing in the Europa League as well as the Premier League.
“I believe Swansea are now paying the price for being so successful last season.
“They must have played ten more games than a lot of sides in the Premier League, and they haven’t got the kind of squad the Champions League clubs have got.
“Swansea have picked up extra injuries in the Europa League, and even for the players who are fit, it is very difficult to play games every three days.
“You have the travel as well as the extra games to cope with, and that makes it very difficult to stay sharp.”
Swansea have made their mark in Europe, beating Valencia on their way to qualification from Group A and a last-32 tie with Napoli.
These are memorable fixtures, the kind which will not be forgotten in a hurry in these parts.
But Owen, a Uefa Cup winner with Liverpool in 2001, is in no doubt about the downsides of Continental competition.
“I have been impressed by Michael Laudrup, he has carried on the good work done by Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers,” Owen adds.
“But I feel sorry for him this season.
“It’s not rocket science. Swansea are playing a lot more games this season and they haven’t got the squad to cope.
“The Europa League can be thrown upon you and you are not really prepared for it.
“Swansea could do with another four or five top-quality players with all the games they have got, but can you justify spending the money to bring them in when you may only be in Europe for one season?
“We saw something very similar with Newcastle last season. They were right up there two seasons ago and got to the Europa League, then they ended up fighting against relegation last year.
“This season they are not in Europe and they are right back at the top end of the table again.”
Ninth last season, Swansea are 13th now and only four points clear of the drop zone.
Laudrup remains confident that his team will finish well clear of the relegation places, and Owen backs the Dane’s view.
Nevertheless, the 34-year-old is convinced Swansea will suffer.
“I wouldn’t judge Michael Laudrup on where Swansea finish in the league this season,” he adds.
“If you forgot about all the cup competitions and every Premier League club just played 38 Premier League games, I would see Swansea finishing in the top half, either eighth, ninth or tenth.
“But I would say you’ve got to knock them down five or six places this season because of their European commitments.
“I don’t see them having any problems are far as relegation is concerned, but I do see their league position being affected.”
Might it be good, therefore, for Swansea to go out of the FA Cup at the earliest opportunity when they go to Manchester United tomorrow?
Owen does not go that far.
He is so confident that Swansea will not be dragged into relegation trouble that he argues a cup run would not damage Laudrup’s cause.
Whether Owen is right or not, we may never know, for Swansea’s interest in the cup might very quickly be over.
Swansea start as heavy underdogs this weekend and, with the stakes high for United, their former frontman does not expect to see an upset.
“As much as I like Swansea, I don’t see them winning at Old Trafford,” Owen says.
“I don’t think United will be resting all their big hitters because this is a big game for them.
“This is only David Moyes’s first season, but United are used to winning trophies and he will want to deliver some silverware.
“The FA Cup is one of the four competitions he can win and, with home advantage as well, I see United getting through.
“They had won six in six before they played Tottenham on New Year’s Day, and even then they didn’t play badly.
“Spurs were outstanding, but United played well.
“I don’t think Swansea are coming to play a team who are out of form.
“Some people will say it is a good time to play United, but I’m not sure about that.”
So Swansea may struggle in the FA Cup, but Owen is sure they will be fine in the Premier League.
If he is right, their fans will be happy enough.
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FA Cup Third Round football live on BT Sport
Blackburn Rovers v Manchester City – Saturday 4th January, 12pm, BT Sport 1
Derby County v Chelsea – Sunday 5th January, 1.30pm, BT Sport 1
Manchester Utd v Swansea City – Sunday 5th January, 4.15pm, BT Sport 1