Michael Owen has been deemed surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, but if you’re expecting a Liverpool reunion, don’t hold your breath says manager Rafael Benitez. The Telegraph’s Tim Owen reports :

“I have said many times that we have six strikers here and, even if we are down to five, it will be the same,” the Liverpool manager said. “I need players in another position and I am not doing anything about Owen. I am talking with my scouts about a centre-back and a winger. I am not talking about Michael.”

Benitez denied there had been formal contact with Real Madrid, another club swamped by centre forwards.

Steven Gerrard has said Liverpool could not afford to see Owen go elsewhere. “Could you imagine him scoring against us for another Premiership club? It would be a nightmare.”

Yesterday Fernando Morientes, who knows all about the pain of sitting on a bench in the Bernabeu, asked another question. “If we are going to sign someone, who would be better than Owen?” Through all this, Benitez has given the appearance of a man resolutely unconvinced.

Yesterday he reeled off the men he could use as centre forwards; Morientes, Cisse, Baros, Crouch, Mellor, Sinama-Pongolle and, at a pinch, Kewell and Garcia. Then he mentioned his list of available centre-halves, which came to three. Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and young Zak Whitbread. There is no question what his priority is and Benitez stated that a winger – probably Aston Villa’s elegant Peruvian, Nolberto Solano – ranks above another forward.

Earlier this week, former Leeds misfit Alan Smith (above) found himself scorned for refusing an invitation to play in England’s friendly with Denmark, prefering instead to turn out for Manchester United’s reserve team match against Bolton. The Times’ Giles Smith singlehandedly takes up the cause of Smith’s defense :

To understand Smith™s motives, however, we need to consider why any player would resist Eriksson™s silvery whisper and say no to an England trip. True, in Smith™s case this time, it might not have looked all that enticing on the recruitment posters: œNow that our sixth-choice striker has picked up a niggle, your country needs you. But even here, there could have been plenty in the invitation to appeal to him.

An England trip routinely offers five-star accommodation in a vibrant European destination, all expenses paid. Players enjoy unparalleled access to cones put out by Tord Grip. (Few men lay down a cone as well as Grip.) Otherwise, they have little else to do but kick back and play a round or two of Beggar My Neighbour with Jermain Defoe. In Smith™s case, he would have got a few days off training with Ferguson, which must come as a fantastic relief to anyone who cherishes their nerve ends. And, short of joining Manchester City, it™s the only opportunity a player will get to flick David James on the ear on the plane home. And all this for between 20 and 60 minutes of utterly consequence-free football in an international shirt (yours to keep or swap).

It is clear, then, that, on at least one level, Smith™s refusal to join the rest of the lads in Copenhagen this week was an act of almost heroic self-denial. Offered the corporate jolly to end all corporate jollies, he stayed at home to work in the unglamorous but necessary circumstances of reserve football.

And, doing so, he showed a professionalism and an ability to make a sober assessment of the circumstances that history has not necessarily taught us to expect from him.

How unjust, then, that his actions should have been interpreted as an insult. Surely what he was saying was: œThank you, Sven and the FA, but right now, I don™t think I™m up to it. A midweek mini-break in Denmark has its charms, but on my present form I would be doing my nation a disservice by agreeing to come. Far better that I stay behind and get some properly competitive football under my belt, in the hope of becoming a better player who may one day be of valuable service to his country.

And perhaps he was also saying: œHave you seen Bolton™s second-string defence recently? Wet paper bag, or what? Even I might nick one.