Teenage star Owen signs pounds 1m book deal

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MICHAEL OWEN, the 19-year-old England footballer, will tell his brief but eventful life story for a pounds 1m negotiated with the publisher HarperCollins.

As part of a three-book deal the Liverpool striker will also produce a soccer skills book and a scrapbook chronicling in pictures and words his early years in the game. But The Independent has learnt that Owen will find the demands of a major international publishing house are considerably more stringent than those of a premier league club.

If the player is seriously injured over the next three years or moves to a foreign club the book deal may fall through. Conditions are being inserted into the contract to that effect.

Tom Whiting, a senior editor at HarperCollins and the man dealing with the Owen books, confirmed this yesterday. He said: "We need to look carefully at the agreements we are making with Michael's agent. Injury is something we don't want to think about, but with a three-book deal if he moves to a foreign club or gets injured we will have to look at the deal again."

Owen, who is said to be remarkably clear headed and forward thinking for 19, has been looking for a publisher for his autobiography for some months. The success of the ghost-written life of fellow England star Tony Adams, a cut above the usual sports memoir, particularly impressed him and made him want to work with the same firm. HarperCollins has also published memoirs by football stars Ian Wright and Peter Beardsley.

HarperCollins has insisted that the autobiography includes passages with Owen's thoughts on his colleagues and on his England managers, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan.

Perhaps to save him any embarrassment and to allow him to be more outspoken, the autobiography will not be published until after the next World Cup, in 2002. The 110,000-word book will be ghost-written, although a writer has not yet been signed up.

In any other walk of life an autobiography by someone so young would be a rarity. Not so in sport. The former England cricket captain David Gower wrote his in his early twenties. And the relatively short careers of football players particularly necessitate bending the normal rules of publishing.

HarperCollins will need a writer who will make Owen's footballer-speak a little more interesting than his statement yesterday. He said: "I'm very excited to be working with HarperCollins. It's a great opportunity to pass on the skills I've learnt to young footballers everywhere and to tell my own story."

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