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Newcastle prioritise new Owen deal

Newcastle United are to begin contract negotiations with Michael Owen within the next fortnight, a development that will delight manager Kevin Keegan who has described Owen as Newcastle's main summer target. Owen's present contract expires at the end of next season and it is usual for an extension to have been discussed by now, but Newcastle's mid-season change of manager, their erratic form and the recent UK absence of owner Mike Ashley have contributed to a delay. But Newcastle are now starting to plan again and the signs are that Owen will stay.

That has never been guaranteed, not even in August 2005 when Owen left Real Madrid for Tyneside. Two serious injuries have restricted Owen's contribution and it is only now that Newcastle fans are taking to the 28 year-old.

Keegan's first act was to make Owen captain and Owen has responded with goals, improved form and an apparent deepening of his relationship with the club.

There have been rumours of interest from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, and Keegan will not be relieved until he sees Owen's signature. But if Ashley is prepared to sanction a contract believed to be worth £115,000 per week, then Newcastle fans will be as heartened by their owner's ambition as Keegan.