Wed, Aug 31, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Newcastle signs Michael Owen on four-year contract

AP , NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND

England striker Michael Owen yesterday agreed to join Newcastle from Real Madrid on a four-year contract.

Owen discussed a return to Liverpool, his preferred destination, before agreeing to join his former club's Premier League rival.

Newcastle said the 25-year-old Owen would have a medical exam Tuesday.

The club did not reveal the transfer fee, but said it beat the club-record ?15 million (US$26.8 million) it paid for Alan Shearer in 1996.

British news reports said the fee was ?17 million and that Owen was forced to join the Magpies because Liverpool was 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.

Owen wanted to leave Madrid because he needs match practice in the buildup 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.

If Owen passes his medical, he'll wear the No. 10 shirt and play alongside former England teammate Shearer, whom he partnered at the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship.

"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.

"Newcastle fans love center-forwards 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 is next to last after four Premier League games and is 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 ?8 million 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 it signed in the offseason.

Madrid may use the proceeds from the sale to fund a bid for Sevilla's 19-year-old rightback Sergio Ramos, Spanish media reported in recent days.

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