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Everton and Villa lead race to snap up Owen

Michael Owen expects to have a choice of either Aston Villa or Everton when his Newcastle United contract runs out today. He is very unlikely to join a Premier League struggler, with the Owen camp confident that the two clubs that finished directly behind the big four last season will make an offer.

Owen, 29, has made it clear that his first choice is Everton but Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, is also expected to offer Owen a deal that would be heavily incentivised. Under the terms of his Newcastle deal Owen is entitled to another four weeks of his £108,0000-a-week salary from Newcastle this month if he does not sign for another club on the same terms. That is an common agreement in place with most players should there be a period of unemployment when they come out of contract.

Newcastle fans will feel differently about their financially ravaged club having to shell out another £432,000 on Owen this month but they have no choice and will be obliged to do the same for the out of contract Mark Viduka who is on £65,000 a week. Even if Owen signs for Everton or Villa this month, Newcastle will be obliged to make up any shortfall in his contract until the start of next month.

Despite the cynicism towards Owen from many quarters, the striker is still in demand. So much so that offers from Stoke City and Hull are likely to be much further down the queue. The former England striker is an attractive proposition because he can be signed on a short-term deal – possibly even a one-year contract – with the promise of an extra year if he plays a certain number of games. Meanwhile, Newcastle have asked Colin Calderwood to come back to work with Chris Hughton during pre-season.