Newcastle kick off Owen contract talks

Newcastle yesterday formally offered a new contract to their striker Michael Owen, who will have to accept a significant pay cut if he decides to stay. The manager, Joe Kinnear, revealed on Friday that Owen, Nicky Butt, Steve Harper and Shola Ameobi, all out of contract at the end of the season, would be made offers this week. He expects to sit down with all four today to discuss the way forward, having been given the go-ahead by Newcastle's owner, Mike Ashley.

However, Kinnear admitted that while he is hopeful of persuading Butt, Harper and Ameobi to stay at St James' Park, he is less optimistic about getting a positive answer from Owen. The former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker, who cost Newcastle £17m three and a half years ago, is understood to have been offered a three-year deal worth £80,000 a week, a sharp fall from his current £115,000-a -week salary.

Owen, who has scored nine goals in 15 appearances this season, celebrated his 29th birthday with his 29th goal for Newcastle in the 3-0 win at Portsmouth on Sunday. He refused to be drawn on his future, amid speculation that several clubs will attempt to sign him in next month's transfer window.

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