Black and white for Owen


LONDON: England striker Michael Owen agreed to join Newcastle from Real Madrid on a four-year contract yesterday and Magpies fans were buying the team’s shirts with his name on even before he had passed medical checks. 

Owen discussed a return to Liverpool, his preferred destination, before agreeing to join his former club’s Premier League rivals and team up once more with former England captain Alan Shearer. 

Newcastle said the 25-year-old Owen, who has a history of hamstring trouble, would have a medical examination later yesterday. But that didn’t stop the club shops printing his name on Newcastle shirts and fans lining up to buy them. 

Two rounds of World Cup games means there is a break in the Premier League schedule until Sept 10, so Newcastle won’t be able to introduce him to the media as a Magpies player until late next week. 

Newcastle did not reveal the transfer fee, but said it beat the club-record £15mil (US$26.8mil) they paid for Shearer in 1996. 

British news reports said the fee was £17mil (US$24.8mil) and that Owen was forced to join the Magpies because Liverpool were unwilling to match it. 

That left Owen with the choice of staying as Madrid’s fifth-choice striker or joining Newcastle, a club struggling in the Premier League and not qualified for European competition. The last time Newcastle won the league title was in 1927. 

Owen wanted to leave Madrid because he needs match practice in the build-up to next year’s World Cup. He scored 16 goals last season after joining from Liverpool a year ago, but failed to get a regular first-team place. 

Magpies manager Graeme Souness struggled to find the right partner for Shearer, trying out Craig Bellamy and Patrick Kluivert before moving them on. He has recently hired Albert Luque from Deportivo de La Coruna but the Spaniard is likely to be a back-up to the Shearer-Owen partnership. 

If Owen passes his medical, he will wear the No 10 shirt and play alongside Shearer, who was his strike partner at the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. Shearer, 35, retired from international football after Euro 2000 and was due to finish his career at the end of last season before agreeing to stay on at St James’ Park. 

“Bringing Michael to St James’ Park will rank alongside the signing of Alan Shearer as my proudest moment at Newcastle United,” Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd said yesterday. 

“Newcastle fans love centreforwards and Michael is a fantastic goalscorer. He’s someone we would love to build the team around and we hope he can help us bring success to the club.” 

Newcastle are next-to-last after four Premier League games and are the only team yet to score. Owen’s arrival should help – he scored 158 goals in 297 appearances for Liverpool, his first club. 

Owen scored more goals against Newcastle than any other team, but never played under current Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, who sold him for £8mil (US$14.3mil) shortly after taking over. 

Although he’s a regular for England – playing at the two most recent World Cups and European Championships – Owen wasn’t even a substitute for Madrid’s season opener against Cadiz on Sunday. It was the first time he had been omitted, other than because of injury, since he joined. 

Madrid started with Raul Gonzalez and Ronaldo up front, and can also call upon Brazil forwards Julio Baptista and Robinho, whom they signed in the off-season. 

Madrid’s director of football, Arrigo Sacchi, said he was sad to see Owen leave but understood his reasons. 

“He’s now a player for the English club. We’re saying this with disappointment because we have lost a great professional, a first-class player and a person who is always positive,” Sacchi said. 

“Real Madrid have always been happy with him and we thank him for what he has done here. We wish him all the luck in the future. 

“He asked to leave because this is World Cup year and here he wasn’t always going to play. We didn’t want to loan him out and only when a big offer arrived did we accept his transfer.” – AP  

THE MICHAEL OWEN FACTFILE 

Date of birth: 14/12/1979 

Birthplace: Chester (England) 

Height: 172 cm 

Weight: 67 kg 

Position: Striker 

Clubs: Liverpool (1996-2004), Real Madrid (2004-2005), Newcastle (since 2005) 

International appearances: 71 

International goals: 32 

International debut: 11-2-1998, England vs Chile (0-2) 

Last international appearance: 17/08/2005, Denmark vs England (4-1) 

First international goal: 27-5-1998, England vs Morocco (1-0) 

Last international goal: 31-05-2005, England vs Colombia (3-2) three goals 

World Cup:Appearances: 2 (1998, 2002), 9 matches, 4 goalsQuarter-finals (2002), second round (1998) 

European Championships:Appearances: 2 (2000, 2004), 7 matches, 2 goalsQuarter-finalist (2004) 

UEFA Cup:Winner (2001) 

European Supercup:Winner (2001) 

English FA Cup:Winner (2001) 

English League Cup:Winner (2001, 2003) 

Charity Shield:Winner (2001) 

Other HonoursEuropean Footballer of the Year (2001) (Ballon d'Or)Joint leading scorer in Premiership with 18 goals (1998).

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