Liverpool may have to accept a cut-price transfer fee of between £10m-12m for striker Michael Owen who remains intent on joining Real Madrid.
Talks continued yesterday with the impetus for the deal still coming from the player who is determined to sever his links with Liverpool after 13 years. Owen's father, Terry, has led the negotiations, with the striker's agent, Tony Stephens, from SFX. Both are in Madrid. Owen's father has stressed to Real his son's desire to join them - although that has somewhat handed the initiative to the Spanish who are in less of a hurry to sign him than he is to leave. They know that the more they prevaricate the lower his price will drop from the £18m Liverpool had demanded. At the same time hard questions need to be asked at Liverpool over Owen's contract being allowed to run down in the first place - thereby lowering his value.
Liverpool would like to conclude a deal today before the Premiership starts. They also expect to sign two Spanish players - the midfielder Xabi Alonso, who should cost around £11m, from Real Sociedad and the winger Luis Garcia, a £6m purchase from Barcelona.
Liverpool had hoped to secure a player-plus-cash deal in exchange for Owen but that was scuppered on Wednesday night. Manager Rafael Benitez's preferred swap target was Fernando Morientes - but he came on as a substitute in Real's Champions' League qualifier so is now Cup-tied.
That was a show of defiance from Real coach Jose Antonio Camacho who has made it clear to club president Florentino Perez that he wants Morientes to stay. "No one is going to compromise my position - we're always open to improving the squad but Morientes isn't going to leave," Camacho said.
Real would happily have exchanged striker Samuel Eto'o - who they part-owned with Real Mallorca - but he joined Barcelona yesterday in a deal worth around £16m. Real's half share on that deal would help them pay for Owen. Their main target this summer, Patrick Vieira, is expected to finally sign today but reports from Spain yesterday suggested that Arsenal had attempted to raise the asking price by an extra £3m, taking it up to £26m, partly because of payments due to one of his former clubs. There have also been continual hitches over Vieira's pay and image rights.
Real remain cool on Owen although they realise that at 24 and, in theory, hitting his prime he has the marketability to join the galacticos. The Liverpool players certainly think he is going. Team-mate Jamie Carragher said yesterday: "We obviously want Michael to stay but you cannot have a go at the lad if he moves on. You look at Real Madrid and they are maybe the most special club in the world." Although Owen's relationship with Benitez has clearly not flourished - the coach has made it plain that he wants the player to go after contract talks broke down - Liverpool yesterday reacted angrily to reports that Owen had been made to train with the reserves. "It is rubbish to suggest he is some kind of outcast," a spokesman said.
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- Stephen Carter