Owen accepts new deal to stay with Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Liverpool experienced a day of contrasting fortunes yesterday, with their talismanic striker Michael Owen officially putting pen to paper on a new contract at Anfield, a move which may have gone some way to soothing the club's earlier disappointment at being charged by the Premier League with making an illegal approach for Middlesbrough's Christian Ziege last year.

The 21-year-old England international has signed a new four-year deal, which will make him the highest-paid player in Liverpool's history, earning an estimated £70,000 per week. The deal ends lingering speculation linking him with the continent, although the player always insisted there was never any danger of him not signing.

Earlier in the day the Premier League confirmed it was charging Liverpool with making an illegal approach to Ziege while he was at Middlesbrough at the start of last season.

Should they be found guilty, the club are likely to be fined or ordered to pay compensation, although a points deduction is technically within the League's powers.

Ziege has also been charged and similarly, the German defender will not face suspension as that would penalise his current club, Tottenham, who are innocent parties in the affair. He too would be fined if found guilty.

The charges follow a 10-month investigation into allegations made by Middlesbrough about an illegal approach, and are a severe embarrassment to Liverpool and their manager, Gérard Houllier, who last year described the Teesside club's claims as "laughable".

Liverpool refused to comment on the charges, which were brought on Monday, but only made public yesterday by the Premier League, who wanted to wait until Liverpool and Ziege had been informed in writing. Both Liverpool and Ziege have been given 14 days to respond to the charges, and are certain to face a Premier League disciplinary commission.

The charges follow a complaint from Middlesbrough over the transfer of Ziege to Liverpool for £5.5m at the start of last season. In an article in a Middlesbrough match programme in October last year, the Boro chairman Steve Gibson said the club had given Ziege a get-out clause on compassionate grounds following his move from Milan the previous year.

The clause allowed him to move if he was homesick so long as Boro were paid £5.5m. But Boro claimed the clause should only have applied to a move back to Germany, and not to another Premiership club.

Gibson said: "We were aware that Ziege had suffered greatly in Italy and that he did not want a repeat of that.

"To safeguard the club's position we took comfort in the rules of the Premier League, where it is written law that no player can induce or look to seek another club during the length of his contract, and neither can any Premier League club look to induce a player to break his contract.

"In addition there is a confidentiality agreement within the contract which forbids the club discussing the contract, or the player discussing any part of a contract to third parties.

"We believe that both Christian Ziege and Liverpool broke the rules of the Premier League and we are seeking redress to this situation."

If the charges are proved, Middlesbrough will seek compensation for a player they valued at £8m. Ironically, Ziege and Houllier fell out soon after his arrival and he moved to Tottenham this summer.

The Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb welcomed the decision to charge Liverpool and Ziege. "We are pleased that, after a very, very thorough and detailed investigation, the Premier League and its legal advisors share the same view as Middlesbrough FC that there was a serious breach of league regulations prior to the enforced transfer of Christian Ziege to Liverpool," he said. "Hopefully, these investigations will unearth the true facts and those responsible will be dealt with by the football authorities."

Liverpool have put the matter into the hands of legal experts and would not comment beyond a spokesman saying: "As far as we understand, Liverpool have not been found guilty of anything."

It is understood, however, that as well as their anger at the timing of the charge, Liverpool are concerned about the length of time the investigation has taken and the apparent lack of action taken against other clubs who have been alleged to have made illegal approaches for players.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic international Milan Baros hopes to complete his transfer to Liverpool by Christmas. The club agreed to sign the midfielder from Banik Ostrava in July but have been waiting for a work permit.