Morientes and Eto'o complicate Owen's journey to Madrid

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The Independent Online

Michael Owen's proposed move to Real Madrid was thrown into confusion last night as both of the strikers who have been touted as makeweights in the £25m deal suddenly became unavailable.

Michael Owen's proposed move to Real Madrid was thrown into confusion last night as both of the strikers who have been touted as makeweights in the £25m deal suddenly became unavailable.

Owen has surprised Real's directors with his desire to leave Liverpool, but the Anfield club's new manager, Rafael Benitez, had been hoping to land Real's Spanish international striker Fernando Morientes, plus £10m, in return for the 24-year-old England striker.

However Morientes ­ who has impressed Real's new coach Jose Antonio Camacho ­ came on as a substitute in Real's Champions League qualifier away to the Polish champions Wisla Krakow last night. Morientes in fact scored both Real's goals in a 2-0 win, and that means he is ineligible to appear for any other club in the competition this season ­ immediately ending Liverpool's interest in him.

At the same time Samuel Eto'o, who might have been an alternative to Morientes as a makeweight in the Owen deal, was finalising his move to Barcelona. The deal, worth an estimated £20m, was due to be announced today. Eto'o is jointly owned by Real and Real Mallorca and the former had been keen for him to leave La Liga and move abroad. However Barcelona have pursued the Cameroon striker all summer and he was agreeing terms last night.

The £10m windfall for Real from that deal may encourage the Spanish club to continue their interest in Owen, for whom they would have to pay around £20m. Real made a genuine inquiry last season ­ which was followed up with one during Euro 2004 ­ but expected to be rebuffed as Owen was due to agree a two-year extension to his deal with Liverpool.

Talks on that broke down before last weekend and Owen's advisers, the sports agency SFX, used the opportunity to notify Real of his availability. A highly-placed Real source said yesterday he was surprised at the enthusiasm shown by Owen for the move.

At the same time the player's relationship with Benitez has not been as good as expected, considering Owen was among those who had recommended the Spaniard as a replacement for Gerard Houllier. It is thought that Owen has found Benitez ­ who has already moved on 12 players from the squad ­ too abrasive.

Liverpool, are now keen for Owen to move. The club feels it has done all it can to persuade him to extend his current contract, which has just 10 months to run, and has concluded that the cash from selling him would fund wholesale rebuilding.

Benitez already has £2.5m from the sale of Danny Murphy, plus around £16m from the almost certain qualification to the league stages of the Champions League following the 2-0 away victory against AK Graz on Tuesday evening. Owen, of course, spent the match on the bench.

Liverpool already expect to sign midfielder Xabi Alonso ­ who was last night omitted from the Real Sociedad squad for a friendly against Osasuna ­ for just over £11m by the end of the week. They are also monitoring the contract talks between Shaun Wright-Phillips and Manchester City and know that they have not been going well. Tottenham Hotspur have had an initial, somewhat derisory bid of £2m turned down, and Liverpool know they are a more attractive option and would bid closer to the £10m valuation City have reluctantly put on the player.

Benitez, according to sources in Spain, has also drawn up a list of players from La Liga that he is interested in. These are thought to include Real Madrid's 19-year-old Juanfran, an understudy to Luis Figo, Barcelona's Luis Garcia and Malaga's Alexis.

Also on his way out of Anfield is El Hadji Diouf with Bolton manager Sam Allardyce confirming yesterday that he had made an inquiry about taking the £10m striker on a season long loan.

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