Owen pleads not guilty to complacency charges
Michael Owen has hit out at suggestions that he and David Beckham are underperforming for England because they know they will never be dropped by Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Riled by the charge that England's biggest names have taken up residency in a comfort zone created by a star-struck Eriksson, Owen is anything but complacent in defending his record as England's leading striker for the last six years.
"I've been in the team a long time now and I've seen the cycles we go through," he said ahead of England's must-win World Cup qualifier against Poland on Wednesday night.
"At the moment everyone seems to be saying there is a comfort zone.
(In the past) it was a gambling culture or that people liked a drink. In six months time it will be something else."
Criticism of Beckham and Eriksson has reached unprecedented levels in the English media in the wake of Saturday's 2-2 draw with Austria in England's opening qualifier for the 2006 World Cup.
Owen too has come in for his fair share of flak, having marred a lively display by failing to take either of two clear chances before England allowed a 2-0 lead to slip from their grasp.
But the Real Madrid striker categorically rejects suggestions that his form for England, which was by his own admission mixed at Euro 2004, could be affected by Eriksson's view of him as an automatic choice.
The Swede's faith in his senior players does not make him any different from previous England managers, Owen argues.
"When I was coming through as a young kid, Alan Shearer never got dropped, Tony Adams never got dropped.
"I think the top players are treated the same as anyone else. I can only speak for myself but I think I am playing on merit.
"In the last few games for England I've performed well enough to justify my place in the team. I'm still scoring goals and I believe I should still be in the team."
Owen has scored 27 goals for England in 62 internationals and, despite the intensified criticism he has had to endure recently, his goals per game average for England since the start of last season (five in 12) has dipped only marginally.
He is also convinced that the criticism of Eriksson's side as a whole has been overdone in the wake of their quarter-final exit - on penalties against Portugal - from Euro 2004.
"The only thing I look at are the facts and I am very positive about the England national team," the 24-year-old added.
"We've got to two quarter-finals (2002 World Cup and Euro 2004), no-one likes playing against us, we are one of the top countries in the world with some of the best players and some great young players coming through as well."
Owen justifiably points to a country like Spain as an example of a big football nation which has under-performed far more spectacularly than England of late.
But he is also willing to admit that England's recent performances - in Portugal, where leads were allowed to slip away against France and, fatally, in the quarter-final, as well as against Austria - have exposed a weakness when it comes to closing out victories.
"I don't know what it is in our minds that lets teams off the hook and gives them a bit of incentive (to come back).
"It has been the same for quite a few games in that we should have killed teams off. The other night we were dominant for an hour and then it was just like a different team."
It is a fault England must eradicate if Owen's optimism about the future is to prove justified.