Magpies' task is to stop Owen fleeing the nest

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The Independent Football

From replacing Rush as the most prolific goalscorer for Deeside schools to usurping his mantle as Liverpool's leading goalscorer in Europe 11 years later, Owen's career has mirrored that of the Welsh international with unerring regularity although, unlike Rush, he did not get the homecoming he wished for at the end of his one unsatisfying season abroad.

Replacing Rush on the all-time list of Newcastle goalscorers will be a simple task since Rush only struck oncein the black-and-white twilight of his career. The England forward's biggest concerns will be convincing Newcastle fans that his arrival is not merely an elaborate World Cup warm-up and convincing himself that his insatiable appetite for success can be satisfied at St James' Park.

Owen left the "comfort zone" of Liverpool last summer in search of the championship and Champions' League medals that eluded him in his seven years at Anfield only to watch from afar, with no little bemusement, as his former team-mates lifted the European Cup. Now he has returned to England to a turbulent club without European football and no pedigree for honours, with the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup the last trophy to arrive on Tyneside.

But ask not what Newcastle can do for you Michael, but what you can do for Newcastle.

Freddy Shepherd has played a brave, ambitious game in bringing Owen to the North-east, allowing a manager under pressure to take his spending close to the £50m mark inside 12 months and blowing Liverpool out of the market for their former striker with a £17m bid that ensured Real Madrid would not accept a meek offer of a one-year loan. In holding out for a £9m profit Real have out-manoeuvred Liverpool once again, with captain Steven Gerrard's fear that they could not allow Owen to sign for another Premiership club realised.

Newcastle now possess that most precious of commodities, the guaranteed 20-goals-a-season striker. What they do not have is a guarantee that Owen will be the long-term replacement for Alan Shearer. Like Gerrard at Liverpool last season, every defeat and every note of discord at Newcastle will now be judged in terms of its implications for Owen's future.

Newcastle have a signing of prestige, a new marketing tool, a player who can turn a poor start to the new campaign into one with European intent, but not the stability the club craves on account of the £12m get-out clause that will surely be activated if Newcastle flatter to deceive once again and Owen flourishes in Germany.

The reaction on Tyneside yesterday, however, was one of instant gratification, with memories stirred of the receptions given to Kevin Keegan and Shearer when they were unveiled at St James' and the pride their presence alone brought to the club. Given Newcastle's failure to score a Premiership goal for 555 minutes the arrival of Owen represents a glorious remedy, although one that, for a club record transfer fee, was reluctant to even consider a permanent move there only six days earlier.

Owen spelt out his intentions with clarity on 24 August. "I met the Real Madrid president at the Bernabeu last night and we discussed my future," he said. "I said that my ideal situation was to start the season in the Real Madrid team and if not I would prefer to return to Liverpool. The president understood and said he would try to help me achieve this. If the transfer cannot be finalised in time I have agreed to go to Newcastle United but only on a one-year loan. I need to be playing regularly in World Cup year."

Newcastle are prepared to forgive, forget and ignore the implications for next summer, just as the Liverpool supporters who criticised Owen for the contractual stand-off that led to his cut-price departure to Madrid would have done had he returned to Anfield.

Ian Gilmour, of the Newcastle United Supporters' Association, said: "I am totally speechless. I cannot believe it, if I am honest with you. I thought Owen was going to Liverpool and I am very surprised that he has come to St James' Park.

"The signing of Owen is a momentous occasion and is just the same as when the club signed Shearer.

"Owen is England's number one striker and I give credit to the chairman Freddy Shepherd and the club for pulling it off."

Encouraging Owen to stay will be the hard part.

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