Emilio Butragueño exclusively tells TheFA.com that Michael Owen is vital to Real Madrid's future.
WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Taking time out of his busy schedule as Real Madrid Sporting Director, Spanish striking legend Emilio Butragueño tells TheFA.com's James Wright that Michael Owen is vital to the club's future ...
The expansive, tastefully furnished office of Real Madrid Sporting Director Emilio Butragueño is clean and tidy. All around the room is evidence - piles of manuals, newspaper cuttings, memos and emails - of the busy role he now plays in the club.
As the photos in his Bernabeu office bear testament, the legendary Spanish striker was one of a kind. With his curly fair hair, youthful looks and slight frame, he never looked like a footballer, let alone one of the greatest of his generation.
For Butragueño was the spiritual leader of the famous Real Madrid side that won five consecutive La Liga titles between 1986 and 1990. That side - nicknamed the Quinta del Buitre or 'The Vulture's Squad' - is fondly remembered in Madrid and the striker is often included in many people´s teamsheet for the best ever Real Madrid side.
He achieved world-wide fame with his performance in the 1986 World Cup where, in a match against the much-fancied Danes, he scored four goals in a blistering display of intelligent forward play. His tally of 26 goals for Spain was the national record until it was broken recently by Fernando Hierro and then Raul.
Now Sporting Director at Real, Butragueño is back at the club that is his home, and is the man in a perfect position to judge the impact that Real Madrid's latest galactico, Michael Owen, has had in his first few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.
"He suffered a lot in his first couple of months here and we had to help him," says Butragueño. "Adjusting to the new environment is difficult but thankfully he is about to move in to his new house and having a home will hopefully make him feel even more comfortable.
"I had the same thing when I moved to play in Mexico. At the start, playing in a new country is tough because there are so many things in your life that have suddenly changed. So now he is more settled and doing well, I am very happy for him."
The past five weeks have been good for Real as they have put together a string of victories and closed the gap on the league leaders - arch rivals Barcelona. And Butragueño recognises the important role the English striker has had to play in Real's rise.
"Over the last month he has been a very important player for Real Madrid. He scored the winning goal in the Champions League against Kiev, scored the match winner against Valencia and also got important goals against Malaga and Getafe.
"The competition is fierce but I think that in this Real team everyone can play a pivotal role. In the last five or six matches he has been one of our most important players, so he is vital to our future successes.
"Obviously we have a very strong squad and in that squad we are fortunate enough to have four outstanding strikers. It was good that when other players weren´t scoring, Michael was in form. We are lucky to have him."
That rich array of talent at Real´s disposal was part of the reason Owen spent much of his first few weeks in Spain on the bench, but when asked about how Owen reacted to not being a first-choice player a smile broadens on Butragueño's face.
"I must say this. Michael is very competitive, he wanted to play well from the very start. So it was hard for him to not play every game.
"However, since he joined he has behaved like the perfect English gentleman. He is an extraordinary man. For such a big star to accept starting on the bench shows a very good character. I have been impressed with the way he has handled everything."
The short, slightly-built Madrid-born striker scored 180 goals in 450 games for Real, as well as those 26 for the Spanish national side. Few of his goals were thumping drives from outside the box, nor were many perfectly-timed headers.
Indeed, hardly any of Butragueño's goals would be considered as classics. Rather than the spectacular, Butragueño favoured a more delicate, subtle style of play and as a result nearly all his goals see the diminutive figure stroking the ball carefully home after a perfectly-timed run, or a piece of opportunism in the penalty area.
A famous trait of his was his uncanny ability of perfecting the "desmarque", or the art of staying onside, level with the defence, until as late as possible before running into an empty space, collecting a pass and scoring. It is a quality that he sees in Owen.
"He also looks for empty spaces, so in that way maybe we are similar, but I think he is quicker and a better finisher than me," says Butragueño modestly, sipping from a glass of Real Madrid-branded water.
"He is very fast and he is beginning to understand the players around him. The goal he scored last weekend against Albacete was the perfect example.
"Ronaldo played the perfect pass and Michael ran clear of the defence and finished very well. That is why I say he is a better finisher than me. His goals against Malaga and especially Valencia were also very good."
Though Owen didn´t score in last night's friendly match, the future is looking bright for the former Liverpool man and this weekend he will experience what will be one of the most memorable moments in his Real career - his first match against Barcelona. Emilio Butragueño won't be the only one hoping he does well.
Log on to TheFA.com tomorrow for the second part of Emilio Butragueño's exclusive interview.